Puerto Rico Governor: Army Corps Not Moving Fast Enough

The USACE was assigned the duty of overseeing power restoration on the island one week after Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20, but some controversial decisions have been made since then.

📅   Wed November 08, 2017 - National Edition
Emily Buenzle


Rossello said he was “unsatisfied” with the USACE's “lack of urgency,” which he feels has slowed the recovery process, Reuters reported.
Rossello said he was “unsatisfied” with the USACE's “lack of urgency,” which he feels has slowed the recovery process, Reuters reported.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello is unhappy with the efforts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has made to restore power to the island after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September.

Rossello said he was “unsatisfied” with the USACE's “lack of urgency,” which he feels has slowed the recovery process, Reuters reported. The USACE was assigned the duty of overseeing power restoration on the island one week after Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20, but some controversial decisions have been made since then.

What Happened

Rosello and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) have faced criticism after they turned down mutual aid from U.S. public power utilities, a move which led to PREPA signing a no-bid contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small, Montana-based firm, Reuters reported.

This decision caused so much controversy that Rossello cancelled the contract in late October. Around the same time, PREPA reached out for mutual aid from New York and Florida utilities. According to Rossello, PREPA originally turned down the aid because the island wouldn't be able to afford to pay for the utility workers, and the USACE said they would be able to get Puerto Rico's power back in 45 days, with no down payment required, Reuters reported. But at this point, only 30 percent of Puerto Rico has had its power restored.

“Based on the lack of urgency, we have asked for mutual aid programs to be executed quickly,” Rossello said. “We have asked that the Corps of Engineers ramp up the plan to bring people over here.”

According to Jose Sanchez, director of USACE contingency operations, the agency had handed out contracts in seven to ten days—much faster than the typical weeks- and months-long timeframe.

Moving Forward

Rosello and PREPA have agreed that the USACE will still handle the power restoration. In addition, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said his state would provide 350 utility workers and 220 vehicles to help the island, though he did not specify who would pay for them, Reuters reported.

The federal government has also agreed to expand its disaster aid from 75 percent to 90 percent to cover the cost of rebuilding the island's power grid, Reuters reported.