By DEBORAH A. MILES
Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017 and are regarded as two of the worst natural disasters on record, both annihilating the island within two weeks.
The problematic relief efforts are still taking place, as the availability of clean water and a lack of power continue to cripple many areas. Although the focus has been on the Puerto Rican mainland, the island of Vieques, eight miles away, also suffers. The 160 mph flooding winds and tidal surges transformed Vieques’ most beautiful beaches to what resembles the aftermath of a nuclear bomb.
On top of a hill in Vieques stands the Count of Mirasol Fort, which began construction in 1845, and has literally weathered countless hurricanes for nearly 175 years.
It is that fort and the humanitarian crisis that has lured a PEF member to lend his expertise and help end the “crisis mode.”
Michael Wise is the director of energy and sustainability at the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks). It’s a job he has been doing for 24 years and is driven by the state’s desire for energy conservation, sustainable sites, waste reduction and recycling, green procurement, education and training.
“We are the top energy agency in the state of New York and one of the tops in the country,” Wise said. “I lead the program that began in 1995 that includes clean fuel vehicles, recycling and renewable solar power. One current project is the complete solarization of the state park system by 2030, and another is a plastic pollution prevention effort that will ban five different sources of plastic in all parks this year.”
The stellar reputation earned by his agency in the solar area, which is comprised of PEF members who mainly oversee the work completed by Civil Service Employees Association members, was brought to the attention of Centro Civico.
Wise said his name was given to this Albany-based non-profit organization whose goal is to aid the survivors in Puerto Rico.
“Centro Civico learned we train our employees at Hudson Valley Community College in solar installation, renewable energy and building envelope work, sealing a building for heat and air-conditioning leaks. We also work with Job Corps to train young adults in solar installation. The people at Centro Civico asked for my help.
“I have a group of professional folks that I work with on various projects throughout the state. We put together a team, flew to Vieques and did a complete review of the fort. I was accompanied by a master electrician, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and a North American Board certified solar installer,” Wise said.
The group went for three days in July 2018 and fine-combed the fort, top to bottom, checking electrical components, panel boxes, wiring and the structure itself. Wise said Vieques lacked fresh water during the storms because the water comes from the main island.
“When the power went out, the water went out. This project is more than solar empowering the fort. It is also providing water to the fort,” Wise said. “When we spoke to the local political factions, they were blown away. They were in tears thinking someone was going to be able to provide a safe haven for them.
“My group is trying to create a permanent solution to their issues. It’s not just about going there and helping to clean up. It’s about leaving something behind that will help them during the next storm and the storm after that.
“The fort is solid, and also houses a radio station. We want to create a safe haven with the radio station, a food storage area, erecting a water system that will provide clean water, about 20,000 gallons for the more than 10,000 people who live on Vieques.”
Wise and his group have written a detailed project proposal and are seeking private funding to bring new life to Mirasol Fort, which will guarantee future resiliency for generations to come.
Go to PEF RELIEF FUND (to be updated) for more information or to donate to this project. If you wish to contact Wise, send him an email at moc.l1627616994iamg@162761699469esi1627616994wleah1627616994cim1627616994.