Puerto Rico Governor On The Island's Recovery
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
About half of Puerto Rico is still without power two months after Hurricane Maria. The head of the island's public electric company resigned last week. This after the utility PREPA signed and then canceled a controversial contract with Montana-based Whitefish Energy, which had just two full-time employees at the time. We've got Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, on the line now. Governor, thanks so much for being with us.
RICARDO ROSSELLO: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you for the opportunity.
MARTIN: What went wrong with this contract? We've got the Whitefish Energy contract being canceled, and the company says that they're stopping the work and that your government essentially owes them more than $80 million.
ROSSELLO: Well, what happened was, Rachel, that as soon as we got light of what, you know, what could have been a controversial contract, we decided to do a few things. Number one, we decided to call upon two investigations, one on the local level and one with the federal IG so that we can get clarity on the situation. Notwithstanding, I, as governor, I strongly suggested to the power authority that they cancel the contract and that we look for other alternatives, and that's what we've been doing. Even though, you know, some of Whitefish's people are leaving, we're also getting people from the Corps of Engineers or other contractors, mutual aid agreements that are coming to Puerto Rico so that we can reach our goals (ph) and power the island before Christmas.
MARTIN: So how much has all of this now set you back in terms of restoring power to the entire island?
ROSSELLO: Well, certainly, you know, we calculated this effort that, you know, we can called upon the cancellation a couple of weeks ago. We started working. You know, we asked the Corps to double up on their efforts. We asked the public utilities in the United States to help and participate and we've been having meetings every day at 6 p.m. so that we can see what the man count, the person count is in Puerto Rico to restore the energy. Our objective is to get as many people and as many materials as possible over here so that we can get Puerto Rico powered as quickly as possible.
MARTIN: So when's that going to happen? When can you secure another contract? When can you get the power restored to the entire island?
ROSSELLO: Our objective has always been by Christmas getting about 90, 95 percent of the energy grid back up. We've had several milestones along the way. We had 30 percent by the end of October. We met that. We had 50 percent by the middle of November. We met that. And now, of course, there is a huge effort so that we can meet our aggressive milestone. I know that it seems far away, but the damage in Puerto Rico has been severe. It's been significant. And there's a lot of work going in so that we can power Puerto Rico in the short term and then in the long term that we can renew our energy grid and make Puerto Rico a model for energy generation with renewables and so forth.
MARTIN: Let me ask you just in the seconds remaining - Washington has approved some $5 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, the Trump administration. What more are you asking from the U.S. government? Just a few seconds.
ROSSELLO: We've established a path forward so that we can rebuild Puerto Rico stronger. We had a damage assessment to rebuild Puerto Rico and mitigate for circumstances like this. Our damage assessment right now is at $94 billion. It is a large number, but it has been a significant catastrophe over here. And with that, our commitment is to have the most transparent rebuilding process in the history of disasters in the United States and to make Puerto Rico stronger than before.
MARTIN: The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, thanks so much for talking with us this morning.
ROSSELLO: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.