The Electric Power Authority (PREPA) does not have a priority plan for the reconstruction of the infrastructure affected by Hurricane María despite the fact that it has already been allocated 9.4 billion dollars in recovery funds by the Federal Agency for the Emergency Management (FEMA).
“In the coming months we will be determining that priority. At the moment, we are working on specific projects internally, ”explained Fernando Padilla, executive director of Projects and Physical Affairs at PREPA, to questions from the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) about what would be the largest recovery works with the grant awarded by FEMA.
It will not be until December that the public corporation will present the work plan for the use of that money, which includes funds to reconstruct buildings, transmission centers, re-installation of poles, transformers and, public lighting at the island level, dredging of reservoirs and repairs in the generating plants of Cambalache, Aguirre, Palo Seco, San Juan, Yabucoa, Mayagüez, Vega Baja, Daguao, Jobos, among others.
As part of this consolidation of projects, PREPA divided its assets affected by Hurricane María into seven categories: buildings, substations, transmission and distribution lines, telecommunications, generation and water.
According to Padilla, once FEMA approves that work plan, it would take up to 10 years to repair all the projects.
PREPA’s consolidated project leads the list of infrastructure works that will receive funds from the FEMA Public Assistance program, in the categories of permanent works, and that will undergo an evaluation based on Section 428 of Federal Law Stafford.
Consolidation of all affected assets totaled $ 10.704 million. Since FEMA only obligated $ 9.4 billion, it is up to PREPA to identify the remaining funds, which is 10 percent. According to Padilla, to cover that missing amount, the public corporation was authorized to use funds previously granted through the Community Development Block Grant Program for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) and another 193 million dollars. corresponding to a refund of PREPA’s insurance.
Padilla explained that the determination to consolidate all the affected assets in a single project was due to the fact that they seek to “execute the works in a more resilient and more reliable manner, guaranteeing code and safety standards to do so in compliance with mitigation processes and with mitigation strategy within [la Sección] 428 “.
Prior to consolidation, some of these affected PREPA assets had been filed with FEMA individually, even since 2018. This was the case of a project to repair distribution lines in the municipal islands of Vieques and Culebra, which PREPA He claimed FEMA in August 2018.
Formulation of a project with FEMA is the first of 19 evaluation steps when claiming a structure affected by an emergency. That first step includes the preparation of worksheets or project worksheets (PW), where the entity that claims losses to FEMA details the costs of the work and the breakdown of any applicable insurance.
Padilla ruled out that the consolidation of all PREPA’s losses into a single project entails further delays.
“What FEMA wants is for us to submit something much more specific and we have to ensure, above all things, that we can execute them within priorities, sequence of what is the construction of the assets and that when we go to execute a project is within the codes and standards and the parameters required by the formulation and the obligations that PREPA will have within the [Sección] 428, ”he said.
So, is there any expectation of when the works will begin, the requests for proposals or contracts related to these works will be given?, The CPI questioned.
“No. At this time we first have to complete the codes and standards. We presented the work plan, the list of initial projects that will be executed in the first two to three years, and from then on we have formally started to formulate specific projects and exit with competitive processes, ”said the official.
Padilla announced that PREPA currently contemplates the granting of eight contracts – which are awaiting the signing of the director of the public corporation Efran Paredes Maisonet – and which will be given to companies that will dedicate themselves to the design and architecture process of the projects claimed by FEMA. However, he could not be categorical about when this procedure will take place and how much will be the amount that will be paid to each company.
“PREPA continues to prepare for the initial phases of project execution under FEMA’s Program 428. At this time, we do not have signed architecture and engineering contracts as approvals and negotiations with the contracts remain. We hope to have these contracts completed during the month of December, when the new codes and standards for PREPA’s infrastructure have already been completed, ”he said.
This year, PREPA presented the Plan to Modernize the Puerto Rico Electric Grid, where it is estimated that approximately $ 21 billion is needed to rebuild and bring the electrical system to industry standard levels.
Regarding PREPA’s projects, FEMA reported that the public corporation has until December 21 to present its work plan required as part of the funding obligation under the Accelerated Obligation Strategy (FAAST) program.
Ricardo Agosto Castro, FEMA’s deputy director of External Affairs, avoided answering whether the federal agency will approve the plan presented by PREPA before the end of 2020, as he said that they need to receive the document to determine the deadline that the review will take.
“The estimated timeframe for reviewing these proposals / projects varies greatly depending on the level of complexity and coordination required to develop the project,” added the FEMA spokesperson.
The onslaught of Hurricane María in 2017 damaged 2,700 transmission towers and 75 percent of the distribution circuits, the College of Engineers and Surveyors reported in its Infrastructure 2030 report. Experts estimated that the electric power service was restored to all of all clients almost eleven months later.
However, the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s electrical system, which was affected by the passage of Hurricane María, has been plagued by questions, slowness and accusations due to the awarding of contracts such as those signed with the companies Whitefish Energy Holdings, LLC and Cobra Acquisitions, LLC, which have been the subject of federal investigations.
Víctor Rodríguez Velázquez and Rafael R. Díaz Torres are participants of Report for America