Less than 24 hours ago, Puerto Rican officials released a triumphant statement declaring that after 11 months the island’s electricity was fully restored.
This would mark the ending of the longest blackout in history. The restoration of power for more than 160,000 Puerto Rican homes that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Maria hasn’t been easy. The controversial project cost more than $3 billion.
Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), solely, provided power for the island’s 1.5 million residents. The company was no stranger to scandal. It went through 5 CEO’s in a span 11 months. Self-interest appeared to be far more important than the critical needs of the Puerto Ricans still devastated from the effects of the storm. One of those CEOs, former General Electric executive Rafael Daz Granados, resigned in July, rather than accept demands by the island’s Gov. Ricardo Rossell that his $750,000 salary be reduced. PREPA is bankrupt and $9 billion in debt. In January, Rossell announced plans to sell the insolvent company.
For a few months after the hurricane FEMA helped repair some of the damaged power grids. FEMA’s assistance with the restoration ended in July although more than16,000 residents still had no electricity.
“FEMA, its federal partners and the government of Puerto Rico are undertaking one of the largest post-disaster reconstruction efforts in U.S. history,” Juan A. Rosado-Reynes, a FEMA spokesperson, said. “Today, electricity is flowing, water systems are operating, traffic is moving, airports and seaports are operating and permanent reconstruction has already begun.”
“According to our reports, all of our clients that were without service since Maria now have electricity,” said Geraldo Quiones, a spokesman for PREPA.”
He added, “The customers form part of the recuperation process of the electrical system after the devastation of the hurricane.”
Maybe Puerto Ricans missed that memo. Puerto Ricans on Twitter told an entirely different tale.
Residents living in El Yunque National Forest are also singing another tune.
“It’s something that’s not true,” resident Jose Saldaa Jr., 43, said on the phone, denying that power was restored, with frustration in his voice.
Saldaa told CNN on Tuesday that he and his family have yet to see power restored to their home and local business inside El Yunque, on the northeast side of the island. They haven’t had power since Hurricane Irma hit the island, weeks before Maria wrecked Puerto Rico.
Apparently residents involved in the red tape of Puerto Rican politics aren’t counted in the number of those with power. A conflict between US Forest Service and PREPA is the reason he doesn’t have electricity.
PREPA’s claim of 100% power restoration while passing the buck to when El Yunque National Forest agents is “a little deceptive. According to PREPA, the US Forest Service needs to give them permission to be on federal land and install posts.
“I think they’re (PREPA) doing the best they can,” said Sharon Wallace-the forest supervisor for El Yunque National Forest.
PREPA asked to install a new power line that would have required a lengthier process and special permission. However, restoring power to the existing line does not require permission because it would be a matter of simple maintenance for the established line.
Although the two agencies “stay in constant contact”, PREPA doesn’t need authorization to restore the power on the existing grid. It appears that PREPA is actually looking for its next dollar to squeeze out of this ongoing tragedy instead of trying to improve the quality of life for people on the island.