November 7, 2017 / 3:23 PM / 5 months ago

Puerto Rico utility says its boss is too busy for Washington hearing

WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Puerto Rico’s electric utility declined to send its executive director to Washington for a hearing on Tuesday before a key U.S. House of Representatives committee, saying he was too busy working on restoring power to the hurricane-hit island.

Ricardo Ramos had been due to testify at the House Natural Resources committee, which has expressed concern about contracts issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for rebuilding its power grid after it was devastated in September by Hurricane Maria.

“Having him off the island for the three days required to come to Washington D.C. would undoubtedly disrupt our restoration efforts,” PREPA Chairman Ernesto Sgroi told the committee in a letter late on Monday.

More than six weeks after the storm hit, much of Puerto Rico, home to 3.4 million Americans, is without power. PREPA said as of Monday, 42 percent of the island’s electricity had been restored.

At the hearing, lawmakers were to also hear from Natalie Jaresko, the executive director of the oversight board in charge of managing the island’s finances, and Noel Zamot, a retired Air Force colonel tapped by the board to oversee PREPA.

The board and the Puerto Rico government are fighting over Zamot’s appointment in court.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, a Republican, said in an opening statement that there are concerns over whether the oversight board created by Congress has all the “tools” it needs to meet the island’s challenges.

San Juan’s Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been an outspoken critic of federal recovery efforts, was invited to testify, but also declined to appear, the committee said.

Angel Perez Otero, the mayor of Guaynabo on Puerto Rico’s northern coast, told the committee in prepared testimony that 80 percent of families in his city are still without electricity.

Most of Guaynabo’s businesses remain closed, Perez said, adding, “How do we pay our workers and our expenses?” He asked for more disaster aid for housing and more flexibility to other federal development programs. (Reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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