Power companies contracted by the U.S. government to restore power in Puerto Rico are pulling workers from the island, as many of the territory’s residents still lack power five months after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
The New York Times reported Monday that Fluor Corporation and PowerSecure, who had won contracts with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to restore power to the island, were decreasing the number of workers stationed there.
The corps said it was starting a “responsible drawdown” of workers there after power was restored for 1.1 million people, or about 86 percent of customers in Puerto Rico.
Local officials in the territory slammed the move, saying it was too soon for the companies to leave and that their work was incomplete.
Jorge González Otero, the mayor of Jayuya, a town in central Puerto Rico where half of the residents still don’t have power, said the decision to pull workers was met with “indignation.”
“Fluor was among the first companies to get here, about a month and a half ago,” González Otero told the Times, referring to his city. “They said the contract was over, and they left everything half-done.”
“Imagine, I have people here without power for five months who are 80 years old, disabled, bedridden and they were just beginning to see people 50 meters away get their electricity back,” he continued. “They are growing desperate.”
Justo González, the interim executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), said Fluor’s work was not as good as that completed by other companies. He said he was still worried by the firm’s departure.
“It concerns me. It can affect our ability to energize. We wanted them to continue,” González told the newspaper. “What do I want? To energize as quickly as possible.”
A Fluor spokesman defended the company, saying it was reaching the limit on the how much time and money it could spend on the work and has been “directed by the corps to begin transitioning people and equipment off of the island.”
The corps also defended the decision to lower the number of workers, telling the Times that the “right number of restoration workers” were “actively engaged.”
“We will not rest until we have the lights back on for all of our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico,” Col. Jason Kirk said in the statement.
Puerto Rico’s electric grid was crippled by the hurricane in September. The territory announced in January that it would privatize its power system.