Puerto Rico governor calls for DOJ probe after power equipment stockpile found
- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Thursday called for the Department of Justice to investigate the island's public utility, following the discovery of a warehouse full of power equipment that could be used to restore electricity to the half of territory residents who have lived without it for more than three months.
- On Saturday, federal agents reportedly raided a warehouse controlled by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), finding nearly 3,000 pieces of "critical material to contractors," including transformers and steel sleeves that had not been put to use for power restoration.
- PREPA denied withholding the materials in a statement to the Associated Press and a consultant working with the utility in December said contractors and federal agencies had access to the warehouse. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which directs recovery efforts on the island, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It's been more than three months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico's electricity grid, and about half of the island's residents entered the new year still lacking electricity service.
Then, on Jan. 10, The Intercept reported that armed federal agents recently seized an entire warehouse of unused electricity equipment, including critical materials that have been in short supply throughout the recovery.
While USACE is still accounting for all the materials, a spokesperson told the outlet that they included “2,875 pieces of critical material to contractors” and sleeves of full-tension steel, a major component of the island's transmission lines.
The revelations led Gov. Rosselló to call for federal law enforcement officials to investigate the island's utility and its use of the materials.
"At a time when it is a priority to restore the power grid in Puerto Rico, I have ordered a legal analysis of this matter so that the people can have the details related to these materials and their storage," he said.
The exact circumstances around the discovery of the resources remains unclear. While a USACE spokesperson told The Intercept that PREPA controlled the warehouse, PREPA previously told the AP that it had provided the supplies to repair crews.
That statement was reinforced by Jorge Camacho, the former infrastructure head for the District of Columbia Public Service Commission who has been working with PREPA on restoration.
Camacho said he was in Puerto Rico in December, and “during that time, I was cognizant that PREPA’s management had allowed full access to these warehouses, including the one [in question] in Palo Seco."
Regardless of the circumstance, the warehouse news comes at a poor time for PREPA, whose executive director resigned last month after a scandal over the awarding of a $300 million contract to a small Montana firm for power restoration. Rosselló successfully pushed the utility to cancel that contract in October after widespread criticism and an FBI probe into the conditions of its signing.
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