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Infrastructure in Puerto Rico—Choice Is Clear

Oct. 23, 2017 (EIRNS)—When Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló met on Oct. 18 in Washington with President Donald Trump, the President made a number of clear commitments on Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure. He told the Governor,

"I know you were talking about rebuilding your electric plant long before the hurricane; you’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. So maybe this is a reason that we can do it. And we’ll help you and we’ll all do it together."

Trump said further,

I don’t want to just fix poles—you can’t just fix the poles. We have to build a brand-new plant. Or we have to do, essentially, a renovation that’s so large, it’s going to be like a brand-new plant—one or the other. We’re looking at both right now."

Trump said that he had asked Congress to make a "plan and payment plan... Because you are talking about some substantial numbers."

This stands in contrast to the very restricted mandate of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was reiterated last week by José Sánchez of the Army Corps of Engineers, in an interview with E&E News. He said, "Our mission assignment from FEMA, under this emergency response, is to repair the grid." Sánchez said, "It is not to rebuild the grid, it is not to augment the grid or to strengthen the grid."

The Army Corps has received $577 million for this, no more. FEMA awarded a $240 million contract to Fluor Corp. of Irving, Texas, for grid repairs. The Army Corps has placed an initial $115 million order for supplies and materials that includes more than 50,000 concrete, galvanized steel, and wood utility poles, and 6,500 miles of transmission and distribution line cable.

As of Oct. 20, there were 148 large generators installed, with another 280 on hand on the island, and another 130 coming in, for a total goal of 400 to 500 installed, according to Army Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Todd To Semonite, at his briefing at the Pentagon.

What this adds up to—even when complete, which is many weeks off—remains in the realm of emergency response and "stabilization," not building modern power infrastructure for Puerto Rico.