By Nick Brown and Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacked urgency in restoring power to the storm-hit island, and that it was pushing the clean-up effort down the road.
The Army Corp was tasked as the leading federal agency to oversee power restoration in Puerto Rico about a week after the U.S. territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Speaking to Reuters on a trip to New York, where he plans to meet Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rossello deflected to the Army Corps some of the criticism his administration has faced since Maria made landfall on Sept. 20.
Rossello and the island’s power authority, PREPA, were criticized for initially declining to seek so-called mutual aid from other U.S. public power utilities after the storm knocked out electricity to all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents.
That decision has become a focal point because it partly spurred PREPA to sign a no-bid contract with private firm Whitefish Energy Holdings – a deal Rossello canceled on Sunday after an uproar over its provisions.
Rossello has since sought mutual aid from utilities in New York and Florida.
But the initial decision to forgo it, he said on Thursday, was due in part to an understanding with the Army Corps that it could help restore power to Puerto Rico within 45 days, and would foot the bill at a time when the island’s bankrupt government could not afford to shell out much cash.
Six weeks after the storm, only about 30 percent of the island’s grid has been restored.
“We are very unsatisfied with the urgency the Corps” has shown, Rossello said. “Everything that has been done right now has been done by PREPA or the subcontractors PREPA has had.”
Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the Army Corps, said in an emailed statement that “contracts usually take days to a couple of weeks, so we are moving quickly.”
Rossello also said he had some concerns about new parameters laid out on Tuesday by the federal board managing Puerto Rico’s finances, which would require his administration to submit a revised draft of a fiscal turnaround plan for the island by Dec. 22.
“We are in the process of answering to the board some of our concerns with the timelines,” Rossello said, adding that some of the parameters “are appropriate, and some are not, given the lack of information and the level of devastation in Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico filed the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history this year to restructure $72 billion in debt.
Rossello said the revised plan would be centered around a strategy of reducing the size of government, boosting private sector partnerships, and reforming education and healthcare systems.
(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas)