Six months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many areas of the country outside the tourist hot spots are still in crumbling disrepair – some without electricity since the first storm, Hurricane Irma – and residents of the island nation that is closely tied to Chelsea continue to suffer.
Record photographer Keiko Hiromi traveled to Puerto Rico in late March to survey the damage, having followed the story last fall when Chelsea galvanized to provide thousands of pounds and multiple truckloads of donations to help relieve the situation.
Residents of Chelsea are closely tied to Puerto Rico, with thousands here having been born there or having had relatives emigrate here from the island.
Hiromi reported that upon landing at the airport, things looked normal, but upon leaving the population centers, she discovered homes in much the same shape as the day after the devastation.
“When I landed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on March 21, everything looked normal as if nothing had ever happened,” she said. “As I spent five days travelling through Puerto Rico, sometimes away from the functioning tourist areas, I witnessed Puerto Rico in recovery. Many raw scars were still unmended: debris on roads, houses without roofs. Yet, at the same time, I encountered the faces of resilient, strong, patient people, compassionate for each other.”
At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega and Program Manager Sylvia Ramirez were not surprised at what Hiromi found. Both said they are worried that too many have forgotten about the disaster despite the fact that little has improved for many there.
“I knew that the island was going to be devastated, and at the same time I am shocked how citizens of the United States are so ignored,” she said. “In the next few months, the hurricane season is going to be starting again, and Puerto Rico is nowhere near able to take their normal storm season. One thing I was extremely sad about is we are not getting any help. The news has forgotten about Puerto Rico and moved on to other things. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is still in devastation. People are suffering, they have no housing and they’re hungry.”
Ramirez said she feels the same way.
After the devastation, she headed up the Collaborative’s efforts to provide aid to those in Puerto Rico, and also to welcome families coming to Chelsea from the island for refuge.
She said much remains the same there, but that story isn’t getting out.
“I think the lack of coverage in the news doesn’t really portray the reality of what’s happening there,” she said. “People go on with their lives and they focus on their kids, they go to work, Christmas came and went. It’s no longer a priority because it’s not in the news. Our plan here in Chelsea is to do another call for action in June or July to bring attention to the situation. The worry for everyone is that nothing is being done to prepare for this year’s hurricane season.
“People go on with their lives, but there are still parts of the island absolutely devastated and nobody is talking about that,” she continued.
That is exactly what Hiromi reported firsthand.
In Toa Baja, just outside of San Juan Hiromi found Miguel Anjel Mericado at his home. His home still had a collapsed roof that had not been fixed and was open to the elements. Beams rested on the floor and electricity was spotty. He collected items that he could find in order to continue the efforts of fixing the home.
Hiromi also visited Yabucoa, where Maria first made landfall.
In Vega Alta, a rural community in the mountains, she visited a family that had no electricity since Hurricane Irma – the first storm to hit Puerto Rico last year even before Hurricane Maria.
Herberto Rivera, a school bus driver there, had been powering the family home with a generator they purchased months ago. They hoped that power would come back to the community before the next hurricane season.
In Chelsea, Ramirez said they are currently working with 55 families who came to the city after the hurricane for refuge, with 18 of them still in FEMA hotels. Statewide, she said, there are nearly 700 families in hotels who arrived after the storm, and 530 are in FEMA hotel rooms. The dire need is that FEMA will stop paying for those rooms on April 20. Already 123 families have used up the FEMA payments and are being paid for by the Red Cross.
She said they are still collecting furniture for those refugees moving into apartments, and they are still trying to secure more stable living conditions.
At the same time, the identical fight continues on the island of Puerto Rico.
“There are still a lot of people without electricity and with blue tarps on their roofs,” said Ramirez. “That’s the reality.”
By Seth Daniel
Wynn Boston Harbor is working closely with well-known international companies to implement battery technology into their building, a new technology that will help them store cheaper power purchased during off peak hours, and contribute to an overall energy usage that is but 60 percent of what would be expected for a building of its size.
The new battery technology program complements two co-generation plants, a rainwater irrigation system, a huge solar array and a “very aggressive” LED lighting program.
All of it will combine to make the Wynn Boston Harbor facility one of, if not the, most efficient large building in the region.
“We will be running at 60 percent of what the standard energy usage calculation is for a building like ours,” said Chris Gordon, president of Wynn Design and Development Massachusetts. “The interesting thing is when you look at green buildings…it comes down to less energy usage…These buildings are so well insulated and sealed that you save a lot just on leaks. The window seals are so much better than they were 30 years ago, it’s amazing. You save when you use less. Interestingly enough, years ago people started to build green buildings because it was the right thing to do. Now it’s a good business decision and a good environmental decision.”
Perhaps setting the pace for efficiency is a program that will likely be the first of its kind in the Boston area – an emerging technology using battery storage devices to optimize energy usage.
It’s something Gordon said is very new, but he predicted would likely be in every building, and in several homes, in the near future.
The change, he said, is the new technology being developed around better battery storage. Several companies have pushed the limits on new battery technology for electric cars, solar power and for energy efficiency.
Gordon said they are working with several companies to put an array of batteries on their property, but don’t have a specific company named as of yet.
The idea, he said, would be to install a 90,000 sq. ft. solar installation on the roof of the function hall and entrance, which will generate solar energy to be stored in the batteries.
The bigger savings, however, will be having battery storage available to store power purchased from the grid at off-peak times.
“You don’t want to buy power at peak periods, so if you have storage capacity using batteries, you can buy when prices are low,” said Gordon. “There are times of day and times of the year that are more expensive and they don’t want you to buy then. For example, in the summer with lots of air conditioners running, you don’t want to buy energy on a hot day. It’s more expensive…I don’t know if we’re the first, but we will be one of the first certainly to use this in Greater Boston.”
He said they will employ one person on site to monitor commodities markets to decide which time is best and what time is not best to buy energy. He indicated that all of this is just now available because of the rapid innovations in battery technology, which allows for smaller installations.
“The battery technology in a building like ours is a new concept,” he said. “In the old days, using them for energy efficiency was tough because they were massive. Now they are a lot smaller and you can put them in a building and they don’t take up as much real estate.”
Another major piece of the operation will be two co-generation plants that are being installed in the back of the house.
The units are about 15’ x 10’ and generate electricity that will be used to power the building. Co-generation works on the principal of heating water and creating steam by burning natural gas. Both the steam and hot water are then used to heat the building. However, as they are created, they turn a turbine that creates electricity as a by-product – electricity that can be used immediately in the building or stored in the battery system.
The two co-generation plants will produce 8-10mgW of electricity.
“Co-generation produces hot water, steam and also electricity,” said Gordon. “We’ll produce a lot of electricity with them, but we’ll keep it all on site. That means we’ll produce a lot of our electricity and the solar will be used on site as well…All in all, we believe we’ll be able to run 70 to 80 percent of the building’s functions just off of the power we have inside if we want to or need to.”
He said that if there is a power outage, they believe they will be able to power all critical functions, and still have enough left over to maintain the usual comforts.
“After all the critical functions are accounted for, like the lighting and heat, there will still be a lot more left,” he said. “People will be quite comfortable in an outage. You could pave people there as an emergency shelter really, because we’re well above the flood plain and we will have ample power stored.”
Other efficiency measures include:
- A 10,000 sq. ft. green roof on top of the second floor of the building.
- A giant water tank in the parking garage that will harness and store all of the rainwater on the site. That rainwater will then be used in the irrigation system to water all of the extensive plantings inside and outside the building.
All together, it also equals a tremendous amount of savings for the resort.
“We don’t have the exact figures yet, but we’re using 40 percent less than we should, and so you’re looking a very big number in terms of savings on energy,” he said. “We hope that it not only saves us money, but also that it sets the pace for everyone else.”
Above the Flood Plain
Many might have seen the photos of water rushing into the front doors of the Golden Nugget casino in Mississippi late last week as Hurricane Nate hit the Gulf Coast, but Wynn Boston Harbor officials said they don’t ever expect such a thing to happen at their resort despite being right on the Mystic River.
That’s because early in the process, officials said, they decided to change the design of the building so they would be well-above the 500-year floodplain and the storm surge levels too.
Chris Gordon of Wynn Design and Development Massachusetts said they don’t expect to get that kind of flooding on their waterfront site.
“The flood levels are at nine feet, and even with flood surge added, that’s still just 11 feet,” he said. “The garage entrance is at 13 feet and the entrance to the building is at 24 or 25 feet. In addition, all of the utilities have been moved out of the garage and are on top of the Central Utility Plant. If the garage does flood someday, we just pump it out. The pumps are already there and ready if need be. We don’t ever expect to see the garage flood, but if it does, we just pump out the water. It really does no harm.”
Gordon said it all goes back to a willingness to look at resiliency in the Boston area and go the extra mile instead of fighting it.
“Instead of debating it or trying to discredit it, we said, ‘Let’s just move the building up.’ And that has worked out really well.”
Carmen Cruz prays for friends and family in Puerto Rico during the vigil and donation drive on Thursday, Sept. 28, to aid in the relief effort for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Chelsea Collaborative and Teamsters Local 25 organized the event, with many community partners. Teamsters Local 25 is donating trucks and drivers to transport the relief items Hurricane Maria has devastated the island, with an overwhelming majority of the 3.4 million residents still without power as of last week, and officials struggling to get food, water, fuel and needed supplies to everyone in need.
By Seth Daniel
On Monday morning, Margarita Nievez kept busy folding a sheet and some clothing that was set to be trucked out to New Jersey – and later to Puerto Rico.
The day before, she and her friends helped load rice onto pallets.
Last Thursday evening, they participated in a vigil at City Hall, and then helped collect more food that was loaded onto trucks provided by the Teamsters Local 25. That collection was also being shipped to Puerto Rico.
For Nievez, it’s all about staying busy and keeping her mind off her home island, which has been wiped out by two hurricanes this month, most recently Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.
“It feels good to help here and not think about it,” said Nievez on Monday while folding a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative. “They are suffering down there from not having food and water. They could be dying now.”
She began to tear up, and then went back to her work.
Nievez said she has family in Ponce and Comerio – among other remote places that were hit directly.
“I haven’t heard anything from any of them,” she said. “I don’t know where they are.”
Maria Figueroa has a sister in Mayaguez, and she said it has been encouraging to see the community in Chelsea band together so quickly to help.
Indeed, Chelsea historically has one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast per capita, and so such a devastating impact on many in the City.
On Monday, Chelsea Police officers and Public Works crews were stationed in the Collaborative racing against the clock to load everything up before the tractor trailer arrived at 3 p.m.
Thousands of pounds of food waited in a hallway.
“I’ve been here doing something from last week until now,” said Figueroa. “Thank God everyone is helping each other. Different cultures and different races are all coming together.”
As they worked, David Rodas came through the doors to bring a variety of rice bags, water and canned goods.
“I’m not even Puerto Rican,” he said. “I’m from El Salvador, but we’re all humans and I see people in need. This is what you do.”
Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said keeping busy has helped her, and helped many like Nievez and Figueroa.
“It’s a way of them coping with what they see on TV,” she said. “They don’t want to sit around the house and not do anything and not know what’s happening. So, I’ve had a lot of people who have showed up and wanted to help since last week. They fold clothes, organize food, or whatever they can do.”
Margarita Nievez folds a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative on Monday while Leanna Cruz organizes clothing in the background. Many Chelsea residents who have family in Puerto Rico haven’t heard any news of their whereabouts since the devastating Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20. To cope, they keep busy.
By Seth Daniel
New federal flood maps – set to be fully approved for Chelsea next month – could bring about quite an expensive surprise for homeowners in areas where flooding is probably the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Flood maps are reviewed and compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), and have been in the process of being revised for several years. The maps this time, however, account for far greater coastal inundation by storms like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. So, there are far more areas that are now considered flood prone, including areas like Addison, Heard and Blossom Streets that were never in flood zones before.
Proposed flood maps for Chelsea include new flood areas such as the entirety of the Everett Avenue Urban Renewal District – including the Market Basket. It also includes streets on the other side of Rt. 1 like Addison, Blossom, Heard and Second Streets – including Chelsea High School.
It also now extends far into the industrial areas along Eastern Avenue – all the way up to the MWRA property.
“The new maps is a significant change from the previous maps that were in effect,” said City Planner John DePriest. “The use the new levels on coastal inundation like parts of the country got in Hurricane Sandy or in New Orleans. The old zones went out a couple hundred feet from the creek. It now extends over to the urban renewal area in Everett Avenue and on Eastern Avenue all the way to the MWRA property.”
Those expanded maps mean that anyone in the new flood plain – which goes before the Council on March 16 for approval – would now have to carry flood insurance – which can be very expensive.
For a residential home, some estimates indicate it could cost as much as $5,000 per year for those who now find themselves in the flood plain.
For places like Market Basket and other existing businesses, it means a very large, new bill to operate in places they have been for a long time.
“Insurance companies have begun to or will soon be sending the bills to property owners,” said DePriest. “The first thing is people should be talking to their homeowner’s insurance company. Getting federal insurance is much easier to find and less expensive than the market rate.”
He said they can also contact FEMA directly for discussion of the situation.
There is also a way to dispute the designation, particularly for homeowners on the fringes of the new maps. That is called a Notice of Map Change, and it would likely mean spending a few thousand dollars for a survey and proving one’s case.
“The burden of proof is on the homeowner,” he said.
For pending development, the new maps bring about some certainty and many new developments would have the advantage of being able to build around the problem.
For instance, an apartment building could eliminate the first floor of residences and put parking underneath. Other work-arounds are also available, such as raising the building threshold height.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop development,” he said. “It will add to the cost of it. Market Basket has more development plans down there. We continue to have discussions with Market Basket and they haven’t given any indication they don’t want to continue redevelopment on the site.”
The City did appeal the maps last year, and small changes were granted in that appeal, but the significant changes were kept in place.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said there was only so much the City could do to influence the federal government in such big policy decisions like this.
“We know it is expensive and what I can say is we appealed the maps, but at some point the city’s influence is limited,” he said. “We tried our best to prevent it, but this is the end result.”
Ambrosino said he hasn’t heard much from the public yet, but if there is an outcry, he would consider having a public meeting to address the new maps.
The Planning Board held a hearing on the maps Tuesday night, Feb. 23, at City Hall. Their recommendation sends the matter to the City Council.
An affirmative vote of the maps by the Council allows residents to participate in the federally-subsidized federal flood insurance program – which is still expensive, but much less than prices on the open market.
Proposed new flood maps by the federal government could dramatically increase flood insurance premiums in Chelsea and require many businesses and residences – all the way to Everett Avenue – to carry new flood insurance policies.
The Planning Board will begin looking at the proposed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps at a public meeting on Dec. 17 at 6 p.m., and it might not be a fun conversation – especially for the wallets of Chelsea residents.
“It’s going to cover a substantial part of the city now,” said City Planner John DePriest. “It’s going to extend well into the Everett Avenue area and into the industrial triangle on Eastern Avenue too. These are still just proposals and haven’t been adopted yet, but it is what they want to do.”
The new FEMA flood maps are a re-draw of maps produced just five to seven years ago – maps that at that time included a good deal of relief for some homeowners near the waterways. However, these new maps were required to be drawn with Global Climate Change and proposed sea level increases in mind. While no one is quite sure about what exact effect Global Climate Change will have on sea levels, FEMA adopted models that used data from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey – the so-called 500 year storm levels.
While most politicians in the area – such as U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Malden) – have made a career out of tailoring the government towards Global Climate Change theories, this particular change seemed to come back and bite them with unintended consequences.
Already, House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) has sounded the alarm in his coastal districts of Winthrop and Revere and has carried that torch to Washington, D.C. recently to share his concern about what could happen in place like Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop.
DeLeo has told the Record that some residents in Massachusetts have gotten flood insurance bills recently that are as high as $38,000 for one year due to the new maps and an accompanying plan to discontinue subsidizing homeowners in flood-prone areas (part of the controversial Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 that all of the state’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of). He also said that homeowners in Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop could see increases in the thousands on their flood insurance bills.
“I have a very serious concern that if bills were to increase by this much or people were made to pick up new, costly flood insurance, that it could really affect the housing market in Massachusetts – which is just now coming back,” he said last month. “People only have so much in their budget, and we don’t want them not to be able to pay their mortgages just because their flood insurance bill has skyrocketed. I see it as having a dramatic effect on residential areas near the coast, especially.”
His trip to Capitol Hill late last month yielded some positive results, as the entire state Congressional delegation promised to move quickly in delaying any implementations of the FEMA maps or the Biggert-Waters Act. So, there is some relief in sight.
DePriest said those in Chelsea who already are in flood zones would not see any dramatic upgrades in their zone classifications – upgrades that could have cost them dearly.
However, he did say that some residents who carry flood insurance have already seen large increases in their bills due to the lack of a subsidy.
“I have already had a couple of calls from residents with some pretty serious concerns,” he said.
The major issue in Chelsea is the new areas that would now have to carry flood insurance – which include Everett Avenue, Eastern Avenue and two small areas near Mill Creek.
For Everett and Eastern Avenues – two major identified areas for major economic development – an expensive flood insurance bill could threaten to stifle the blockbuster growth that’s occurred on those corridors and is hoped to continue in the future.