USACE Takes New Approach to Projects in U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico – TF VIPR

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), South Atlantic Division (SAD) program has grown exponentially in terms of the number of projects and funding since 2017. Congress passed supplemental funding bills (BBA 18, DRSAA, and BIL) between 2018 and 2022 that provided powers and appropriations throughout USACE and SAD. The increase was due to the impact of natural disasters on the island, as well as increased requirements in the civil works (CW), military construction (MILCON), inter-agency and international support (IIS), and environment programs. Due to these increases USACE took a new approach and created Task Force U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (TF VIPR) to meet the demand and speed of projects.

On May 19, 2023, Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon made the announcement of TF VIPR establishment during a press conference alongside Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner, commander U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division.

Wilmel Varela, right, the resident engineer for Army Corps of Engineers construction and military projects in Puerto Rico, surveys the levee construction underway in Yauco, Puerto Rico, Nov. 6, 2017. Varela, along with a team of engineers and support staff, worked long hours in order to expedite the levee project after the Yauco River burst over its banks into the Lucchetti community, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of residents. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)
Wilmel Varela, right, the resident engineer for Army Corps of Engineers construction and military projects in Puerto Rico, surveys the levee construction underway in Yauco, Puerto Rico, Nov. 6, 2017. Varela, along with a team of engineers and support staff, worked long hours in order to expedite the levee project after the Yauco River burst over its banks into the Lucchetti community, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of residents. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Evan Lane)

“USACE created an exclusive work group to attend reconstruction here in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands,” Gonzalez, said. “The volume of projects and budget is such that Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands needed a dedicated team to attend the workload, and therefore Task Force VIPR has been created. I welcome this Task Force and I vow to continue to work closely with them so that our people can be safe in the face of natural disasters.”

TF VIPR with its own command and leadership structure will focus on all current and future civil projects in their area of responsibility.

“The extraordinary size, complexity, and requirement to put these projects in place will take extraordinary measures,” Hibner, said. “I have directed the stand up of a new organization, Task Force VIPR, that will focus and sole responsibility for implementation of construction projects in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, USACE Chief of Engineers, Mr. Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and all USACE is in full support of Task Force VIPR to deliver these critical programs for the islands.”

The new approach of establishing TF VIPR is unprecedented in two main areas: first time a commander with the rank of colonel will oversee a district-size task force here on the island and the program has more projects and more funding now than in the entire history of USACE engagement in Puerto Rico. Antilles Area Office reports to USACE Jacksonville District but TF VIPR will report directly to SAD as part of the new structure, which will also accelerate decision making.

This transition is so important that SAD has already identified the commander of TF VIPR, Col. Kelcey Shaw, who will report July 2023. The Task Force is currently identifying the right professionals with the right knowledge and skills within USACE to incorporate them into TF VIPR. This expertise with the addition of new and passionate leadership will be growing to fit the mission. There will be new positions advertised as well as the use of contractors to meet additional requirements.

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