USACE delivers much-needed power to Puerto Rico

Tomasa Felisiano (center), surrounded by relatives, thanks electrical repair crewmen outside the home of her daughter, Nioso Soto (far right), moments after power was restored to approximately 140 homes in the Atalaya neighborhood in November. USACE, working with contractor PowerSecure and its sub-contractors, have been restoring power to up to 1,000 residences a day. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY STEVEN SHEPARD


Army News Service

PONCE, Puerto Rico — In an effort to help Puerto Rican citizens recover from devastation in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Power Restoration continues its mission to restore the island’s electrical power grid.

It’s a mission with a daunting challenge: How do you procure tons of critical materials from throughout the nation, transport them across vast miles of water and into the hands of work crews?

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Wiswell and Spc. Muhammad Hasaan Hashmi, power distribution specialists assigned to Delta Company, 249th Engineering Battalion, USACE, pull downed power lines out of debris created by Hurricane Maria. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SPC. ANTHONY MARTINEZ

That’s where the Ponce lay-down yard and warehouse come in to the mission.

The Ponce site is the team’s focal point for amassing an increasing inventory of critical power grid materials, including thousands of wooden, concrete and steel utility poles and hundreds of massive coils of heavy high tension wire. At the warehouse, tons of smaller grid components, transformers, conductors, insulators and electric regulators are among the items housed.

Robert Govero, a Corps logistics management specialist working at the lay-down yard, stated that when their mission to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid began, it took time to spin-up and get these critical materials flowing en mass to the island.

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Eric Elder, a power distribution specialist assigned to Delta Company, 249th Engineering Battalion, USACE, fixes downed power lines in the Rio Grande, Puerto Rico area. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SPC. ANTHONY MARTINEZ

After scouring the nation to obtain needed quantities of grid components, the team has seen a marked increase in the amount of materials arriving to support the mission.

The utility poles, wire coils and other component materials are barged down the Atlantic Ocean from Jacksonville, Florida, to the San Juan Port, where they are carefully inventoried and off-loaded onto semi-trucks for delivery to Ponce.

Once a request is received through the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the warehouse team quickly assembles the material request onto pallets for pick up.

“We maintain 100 percent accountability of every item, from the smallest electrical component to the 5,500-pound concrete utility pole, until it arrives at the delivery site, is stored and ultimately issued to the workforce,” said Daniel Brown, Task Force Power Restoration bill of materials accountable officer.

During the last 72 hours, said Brown, more than 70,000 items have been packed up for issue to the workforce.

“Last Friday, 20 truckloads of material was delivered to the workforce,” added Brown.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, right, USACE commanding general and chief of Engineers, visits USACE personnel assigned to Ponce Port, Puerto Rico, who receive shipments of material to repair the power grid. On site are hundreds of utility poles and miles of transmission line. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY PATRICK LOCH

Plans are underway to stand up a second lay-down yard in San Juan to speed delivery and make the process more efficient.

As the workforce of Task Force Power Restoration continues to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, USACE’s chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen Todd T. Semonite, visited the team Dec. 21, and spoke about their critical mission.

Semonite explained that while the Department of Energy normally handles grid repair and reconstruction, the USACE stepped in to take over the majority of power restoration efforts when the DOE was overwhelmed.

“This was devastating,” said Semonite. “The nation’s toughest challenge: rebuild the grid in Puerto Rico … [DOE] can’t figure that out. So Corps, step up and work it out.”

Semonite said that, given the enormous scope of work, USACE estimates 75 percent of the island’s power grid is tracking to be online by the end of January 2018; 95 percent by the end of February; and any other remaining remote sites completed by May.

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Category: News