In the past two weeks, nearly 1,000 people contracted to restore power in Puerto Rico have left the island, in what The United States Army Corps of Engineers has called a “responsible drawdown” of the workforce under its supervision. They leave as 14 percent of residents—hundreds of thousands of people—approach a sixth month without electricity.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, every home, building and road went dark. The New York Times reports today (February 26) that the Army Corps gave major contracts to two companies, Fluor Corporation and PowerSecure, to work in coordination with the island’s government-run power utility to fix the electrical grid.
Approximately 6,200 workers were initially on the job, but, The Times writes, “Fluor still had 1,600 people in Puerto Rico as of Sunday, but its contract period is ‘nearing the end,’ and PowerSecure is scheduled to wrap up work by April 7, the corps said.”
Jorge L. González Otero, the mayor of Jayuya, told The Times that Fluor arrived in his town a month and a half ago to provide the first assistance they had received for the electrical problems. “[Fluor] said the contract was over, and they left everything half-done,” he said. “Imagine, I have people here without power for five months who are 80 years old, disabled, bedridden, and they were just beginning to see people 50 meters away get their electricity back. They are growing desperate.”
Ahsha Tribble, who oversees power efforts for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Puerto Rico, told The Times that it was not poor management, but proper timing, that was the reason behind the work force reduction. “At 86 percent restoration, we are starting to shave off people,” she said. “In any normal course of restoration, you ramp up until you start getting your successes, and then you begin to start ramping down.”
Puerto Rico was allocated $16 billion in the budget deal passed by Congress on February 9, with $2 billion earmarked to restore and strengthen the electrical grid.