Energy, Government - Armed Feds Sieze PR Power Supplies
US emergency management officials accompanied by military engineers and an armed security contingent raided a warehouse where Puerto Rico's power company was apparently hoarding critical supplies needed to restore electricity to the island territory.
About half of Puerto Rico still lacks electricity, more than 100 days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island territory.
The Intercept reports that "Warehouse 5" is owned by the publicly-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). A day after learning that precious rebuilding supplies were being held in the storage facility, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted the raid with armed security agents, and almost immediately began distributing the supplies to subcontractors and other entities that needed help. USACE was still cataloging the recovered items days after the raid.
Linemen from the mainland United States have been frustrated with about the lack of rebuilding materials, which made it virtually impossible for them to fix downed infrastructure. An anonymous security contractor who was supposed to escort and protect the linemen told the investigative reporting website of long periods of inactivity: "We just sat in the truck and watched a movie because we have nothing to do today," said the source, "Around Christmas, a lot of the power workers were saying, 'We're going on vacation because we couldn't do our job because PREPA was making it so difficult'."
"They didn't have anything to do or to work on," the source continued. "They had had a bunch of poles but no lines, or any of the stuff that goes on the poles. They were just setting bare poles, getting as far as they could go. We were in a town for two weeks and barely got anything done because they didn't have the supplies."
The workers aren't the only people frustrated with the strange lack of urgency in the recovery effort. Several mayors are dipping into municipal budgets to purchase their own grid restoration supplies.
PREPA's mismanagement is making it difficult for those who want to protect Puerto Rico's power grid from privatization. For most of its existence, PREPA served as its own regulator, a situation that led to corruption and neglect of the grid. A series of progressive reform bills were passed earlier in the decade, forcing PREPA to improve its service. Those reforms were opposed by the conservatives, then in opposition, who wanted to privatize the grid. Now that group is in power, and pushing harder than ever to sell off public assets to the highest bidder.