Puerto Rico (TFC)— Rebuilding Puerto Rico following the historic disasters caused by Hurricane Maria is big business. Especially when it comes to re-establishing the island’s completely decimated power grid. One company recently won a lucrative Department of Defense contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid and ensure it’s ready for a turbulent future. The contract comes as the island receives large aid grants, and officials fear the damage is beyond their ability.
The DoD contract was announced on April 6th, 2018, falling under the Army’s oversight. Awarded to Powersecure Inc., the $140,449,730 contract tasks the company with restoring the island’s power grid. Hurricanes which annihilated the American southern coast essentially flattened Puerto Rico. The contract demands work occurs swiftly and be completed by May 18th 2018. Although the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) awarded the contract, project funding comes from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
According to Elnuevodia, the US Army Corps of Engineers has been significantly involved in infrastructure management and reconstruction on Puerto Rico. USACE has faced various challenges since Hurricane Maria blew the island away. Namely, the scale of devastation across Puerto Rico demands USACE, FEMA, and other agencies perform tasks which they’re not traditionally assigned.
The entire island of Puerto Rico, over 3 million people, found themselves without power following Hurricane Maria. Prior efforts to re-establish power even for short periods of time have proved unsuccessful. Half a million people at any given time are without power meaning no heat, no light, no running water, and no internet. Even local authorities have been faced with widespread logistical challenges which in turn crippled rescue missions. Tele-communication on Puerto Rico varies from fickle to entirely non-existent.
Counts for the dead and missing have proved difficult partly due to logistical failures, and partly because of attempts to downplay the devastation. Whereas many sources initially listed a couple dozen people missing or dead island officials, Independent reports, feared thousands were left unaccounted.
Re-construction efforts have been in-part augmented by large grants. Over $18 billion, K5 News reports, was given to Puerto Rico recently by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD funds were part of a larger $28 billion in total raised for US states and territories–including the Virgin Islands–affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Jose, and Harvey last year. Another $16 billion was allocated to better prepare for future disasters.
President Donald Trump was criticized by some who felt his response to the disaster in Puerto Rico was unacceptable. According to Huffington Post, the controversial commander-in-chief even downplayed the disaster on the Island. He then suggested in a joking tone to Puerto Rican officials that US commitments to its people negatively impacts the US national budget. President Donald Trump was also accused of misrepresenting the level of US military response for the American mainland. Let alone Puerto Rico.
Outsourcing expenses and labor might be one way around Trump’s apparent budget concerns. Powersecure Inc.describes itself as a leading energy provider with customers throughout the world. According to PR Newswire, Powersecure was acquired by Southern Company in 2016. Southern Company—another major electrical provider—felt the merger could influence a new generation in power grid innovation. Powersecure itself has been described as a pioneer in smart-grid technologies specialized for solar and wind energy.
Powersecure’s job doesn’t stop at re-establishing a modern power grid. The DoD contract also mandates that new infrastructure is able to mitigate equally powerful weather patterns moving forward. It’s a nice nod to the likelihood of future storms even bigger than Hurricane Maria, despite the Trump Administration’s consistent dismissal of climate change. Under Trump’s presidency, the entire US military also moved to update its vast network of global bases for intensified weather patterns. Whether this particular aspect of Powersecure’s contract was at all influenced by local Puerto Rican politics is unclear.
The world is changing in more ways than one, and Post-Maria Puerto Rico might be a microcosm for the future. Despite enjoying historic levels of funding, US departments like the military appear unable to effectively respond to these events. Contractors have been involved at every level from rescue missions to security, to re-building whole areas. Is government effective when all levels of critical operations like what followed Hurricane Maria are piecemealed out? Will Puerto Rico’s political future at all be impacted by this critical dependence on contractors associated with the US military once the island resumes a former glory?