Turmoil slows rebuilding in Puerto Rico


Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

Ten months after Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electric grid, the local agency responsible for rebuilding it is in chaos and more than $1 billion in federal funds meant to strengthen the rickety system has gone unspent, according to contractors and U.S. officials who are anxious to make progress before the next hurricane.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has seen two chief executive officers and four board members resign in less than a week in a messy fight over how much the bankrupt agency should pay its CEO. The agency’s fourth CEO since the hurricane lasted less than 24 hours on the job last week before resigning amid public outrage over his $750,000 salary.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Wednesday named the former head of Puerto Rico’s water and sewer agency as the fifth head of the electric company since Maria, at a salary of $250,000 a year. Jose Ortiz starts work Monday.

“In spite of missteps in the past, everybody will see that we have the right person at the right time,” Rossello said.

The turmoil has fueled delays in launching $1.4 billion worth of work that includes replacing creaky wooden power poles vulnerable to collapse in the next storm, the chief federal official in charge of rebuilding Puerto Rico told The Associated Press.

“There is no permanent work that’s been done,” said Mike Byrne, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s assistant administrator for field operations. “What I’m worried about is the next level, the permanent work, the going in and building the grid the way I’ve been tasked to do by Congress.”

From shut-down medical equipment to the spread of waterborne diseases, the cascading effects of power grid failure likely led to hundreds of deaths in the aftermath of the Category 4 hurricane.

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