$200 million in supplies heading to Puerto Rico to fix the power grid

$200 million in supplies heading to Puerto Rico to fix the power grid
Linemen in Puerto Rico

More than $200 million dollars’ worth of materials are expected to arrive in Puerto Rico this month to help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hit its 95% power restoration goal at the end of the month.

More than 7,000 poles and nearly 400 miles of conductor wire are slated to arrive in the next two weeks, said Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ district that includes the island.

The additional supplies, according to Kirk, are part of the reason he believes the people of Puerto Rico can count on 90 to 95% power restoration by March 31.

Contractors restoring power in Puerto Rico under the USACE are expected to leave the island by mid-April, according to the Corps’ current plan as obtained by CNN.

According to Puerto Rico’s power authority, on average 87% of the island has power. But Kirk admits that number falls to about 50% in the interior part of the island, and 150,000 US citizens on the island still don’t have power.

“We know that there are a couple of regions that will take into April, potentially May,” Kirk told CNN.

USACE is downsizing, as the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is increasing its workforce across the island. The Army Corps of Engineers projects its contractors will have completed work by April 7.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has repeatedly expressed frustration at the slow pace of recovery and help. He has questioned the USACE’s response on the island compared to other states dealing with disasters. At a press conference Wednesday, he claimed people on the US territory are being treated like second class citizens, saying, “I don’t see the urgency.”

Getting the work done has also become a frustration for mayors on the island like Jorge Gonzalez Otero of Jayuya, in the interior part of the island.

He tells people in his municipality, “Prepare yourselves. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Only 45% of Jayuya, according to the mayor’s office, has power. Hurricane Maria wiped out the power grid when it hit Puerto Rico on September 20 last year. And even where the electricity has been restored, like in the capital San Juan, mass outages are still happening.

USACE admits materials have been a challenge in restoration efforts.

“The initial assessment told us that we would need about 60,000 power poles and over 3 million individual items to work the repair of 30,000 miles of line across the island,” Kirk said.

To date, USACE has received 38,831 poles and 3,068 miles of conductor wire for power restoration efforts. Some of the materials expected to arrive this month were manufactured in January in South Carolina.

According to Kirk, a big part of the challenge is the amount of material needed, the distance it has to travel, and the response to other disasters.

Puerto Rico’s governor claims USACE agreed to have power restored in 45 days, but did not provide proof.

Kirk, however, counters, “The Army Corps has never committed to a 45-day restoration time line.”

At its peak, USACE had more than 4,000 contractors and personnel at work on the island. Currently, about 2,300 workers are engaged in the power restoration efforts, as many people across the island wait for the lights to come back on.