Construction restart of Dos Hermanos bridge hits another snag

Volume: 36 | No: 12
Page : 04
Issued : 03/27/2008

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requests additional information and clarification of certain aspects of mitigation plan submitted by Highway & Transportation Authority
The restart of the $25 million construction work on Dos Hermanos Bridge in Condado, which according to the Puerto Rico Highway & Transportation Authority (HTA) was slated to begin this month and was later postponed to April after three years of inactivity, could face yet another delay as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Usace) has requested additional information and clarification of certain aspects of the mitigation plan the local agency submitted to Usace Feb. 27.

Demolition work on the bridge was halted in 2005 after Usace denied the renewal of the construction permit because of changes in its original design and the discovery of coral colonies by the National Marine Fisheries.

Dos Hermanos bridge is the main thoroughfare between Condado—San Juan’s main tourism sector—and the islet of Puerta de Tierra / Old San Juan.

As previously reported (CB, Feb. 14), demolition work on the existing bridge could not begin until HTA had submitted a complete mitigation plan for seagrass transplantation and coral relocation, as well as a baseline assessment of seagrass at the mitigation site, and had obtained approval from Usace.

HTA must cut the existing bridge piers where coral colonies are present and relocate them at the southeast end of Dos Hermanos Bridge.

According to Usace, on Feb. 27, HTA submitted the compensatory mitigation plan and baseline characterization assessment as required by the two special conditions set forth by Usace permit No. SAJ-1998-5848, which authorizes the replacement of the bridge and the discharge of fill material in open waters for the construction of abutment shafts for piers and rip-rap revetments.

Upon review of the mitigation plan submitted by HTA, Usace determined in a letter dated March 14 that necessary information was still required for a complete mitigation plan and requested clarification of certain information included in the documents submitted by HTA Feb. 27.

The March 14 Usace letter, of which CARIBBEAN BUSINESS obtained a copy, mentions several discrepancies in the HTA mitigation plan, including one involving differing information between baseline assessment and the mitigation plan, discrepancies in the different mitigation sites, a different plot design, insufficient details on a modified “plug” technique for transplanting seagrass and concerns over the monitoring period stated by HTA in the mitigation plan.

“Item 9(a) on page 20 of the mitigation plan stated that monitoring will be performed biannually for the five years of the duration of the mitigation permit. The Corps [Usace] has concerns with this sentence. In accordance with the special condition of permit No. 7, the five years of the monitoring period will commence on the date of the submittal of the initial report and not during the duration of the mitigation permit.”

The March 14 Usace letter also requested additional information as to the proposed transplanting schedule (in terms of proposed dates of initiation and completion), status on the performance standards (whether the mitigation is achieving the established goals and objectives) and a written description of the proposed measures for protecting the mitigation site during the five-year monitoring.

Usace gave HTA 15 working days from the date of the March 15 letter to respond. As of press time Monday afternoon, HTA had notified Usace it was expecting to respond to the March 15 Usace letter that same day (March 24). Calls to HTA Communications Director Irma Mullero were not returned as of press time Monday.

“HTA’s response will be evaluated by the Usace project manager. In the coming days, we will be informing HTA if the submitted information is correct and it clarifies the concerns addressed in our March 15 letter,” indicated Usace Public Affairs Officer Elsa Jiménez.

In the March 14 letter, Usace cautions HTA that work performed below the mean ordinary waterline or the discharge of dredged or fill material without compliance with the terms and conditions of the permit could be subject to enforcement action.

“In other words, HTA can do preparation work at the site, but cannot start construction work below the waterline until Usace approves the mitigation plan,” added Jiménez.