With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers taking the lead on overseeing restoration efforts for Puerto Rico in the wake of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria and additional disaster assistance made available by President Trump this week, a lot is going to change in the next couple of days when it comes to clearing a path for restoration activities, said Mike Hyland, the American Public Power Association’s senior vice president of engineering.
He made his comments during a conference call with mutual aid leaders.
Hyland said that “communications have gotten a lot better” with the U.S. Virgin Islands and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “is really taking control of that situation,” along with crews from the Western Area Power Administration.
He said that Western Area Power Administration crews “are already in the buckets” and starting to work on transmission restoration efforts. “That’s moving in the right direction,” Hyland said. “We have the Western Area Power crews coming in, we have equipment coming in and now we’re moving into seeing contractors come down to the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Earlier this week, Hyland said on a mutual aid conference call that mutual aid workers from the Western Area Power Administration arrived on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Saturday, Sept. 23 and were working with crews from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to energize the transmission system there.
On the Sept. 27 call, Hyland also said that “we’ve had a couple of phone calls with Scott Edwards,” who is general manager of Littleton Electric Light Department in Littleton, Mass. “Scott’s done a great job,” Hyland said.
Edwards on Sept. 28 is going to hold a conference call with the general managers of the New England public power utilities that have offered to assist in the Virgin Islands.
Hyland and other APPA staff will participate in that conference call “and hopefully we can hammer out any questions that they have” on various matters such as what the method of transportation will be.
Puerto Rico update
With respect to the situation in Puerto Rico, Hyland noted that Brock Long, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, traveled to Puerto Rico earlier this week where he “made it quite clear that they are giving a mission to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take over and begin and oversee the restoration process of Puerto Rico.”
As of the morning of Sept. 27, “it went from being something possibly being led by the Department of Energy to now something being led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” he said.
There was an initial conference call during the morning of Sept. 27 “that we were fortunate enough to jump on and they are trying to work out the logistics of who is going to be in charge of the theater down there, who is going to do the damage assessment, who’s going to work” with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Hyland noted.
“It was good that we were on the call. We informed them that we do have the New York Power Authority crews already down in Puerto Rico that were originally sent there to do the damage assessment,” Hyland said.
“Right now, our goal is to connect the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers folks on the ground to the New York Power Authority crews on the ground and allow them to talk about what is the ability of the New York Power Authority crews,” the Association’s senior vice president of engineering said.
Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, “and the folks out of New York are willing to continue to support this mission – even with more bodies – as long as they know they’re secure and as long as they know that they’re being utilized,” Hyland said.
Puerto Ricans have had little or no power since Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island as a Category 4 hurricane the morning of Sept. 20.
Army Corps of Engineers
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers reported on Sept. 27 that “now that they have their mission, their plan going forward on Puerto Rico is very much like every other mission that you would have in restoration,” Hyland said.
“They want, one, to get temporary power in,” which could involve small and large generators. “Two, to look at power generation. We think that’s already been completed. The New York Power Authority crews and PREPA told us that the generation is not damaged. Three, start to bring up the transmission and, four, start to bring up the distribution.”
Trump authorizes 100% funding for emergency power efforts in Puerto Rico
Hyland said that “we were excited to see” action taken by President Trump on Sept. 26. Trump made additional disaster assistance available to Puerto Rico by authorizing an increase in the level of federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures — including emergency power restoration — for the U.S. territory after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria.
Trump plans to travel to Puerto Rico Oct. 3 to survey first-hand the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
Offers of help
Hyland said that “we’ve had a lot of folks really pouring out support to us – calling APPA, saying, ‘hey, we want to help, but you’ve got to give me specifics.’”
But there are a number of questions that need to be answered before that type of assistance can be accepted, Hyland pointed out.
“We don’t know if this is going to be a six-month situation, a five-month situation. We don’t know if it’s going to be rolling crews in. We don’t know how many linemen from the Army Corps of Engineers will be available since a lot of them will be over in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Hyland noted.
Those are just some of the questions he said that still need to be answered.
“The idea of bringing in 50, a hundred trucks right now – we need to make sure that we have line of sight on that going forward to where are they going to be, how long they’re going to be down there, where are they going to be fed, how they’re going to be secure,” Hyland remarked.
He said that debris removal “itself is going to be a huge event.”
A lot is “going to change in the next 24 to 48 hours”
A lot is “going to change in the next 24 to 48 hours. Trust me on that,” Hyland said at a later point in the call.
“I think we are going to see a lot of movement now that the Army Corps is involved and now that Trump has pushed for 100 percent” and with those two events “I think we are poised over the next 48 hours to see some movement and that’s a good thing,” Hyland said.
The reason the next 48 hours is important is because “we’re trying to work the issues and that’s going to take the next day or so and if things get in place and we get into the battle rhythm of who’s in charge of what and how we’re going to go about getting a damage assessment and the specifics of what the needs are, we can then start to move and get information out to the folks that have been asking to offer help,” Hyland went on to say.
Path of Maria
The National Hurricane Center on the morning of Sept. 27 said that Maria was forecast to slowly move away from the North Carolina coast later in the day. However, tropical storm conditions were expected to continue along parts of the North Carolina coast through the afternoon.
“Storm surge flooding is occurring, especially along the south side of the North Carolina Outer Banks, and a storm surge warning and watch are in effect for portions of eastern North Carolina,” the center said.