SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's power company said Monday that it plans to hire private firms to repair some 106,000 streetlights across the U.S. territory that remain in the dark more than a year after Hurricane Maria.
Carlos Alvarado, technical operations chief for the island's Electric Power Authority, said it does not have enough employees to do the job. He said he expected to contract companies starting in mid-January for repairs that would otherwise take up to eight months.
"It's a priority that is being addressed with the greatest possible urgency," he said.
Alvarado said the repairs will cost $40 million and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is to reimburse the amount. He said U.S.-based companies including Cobra and MasTec have expressed interest in the project.
It wasn't immediately clear why the companies were not contracted earlier.
Alvarado said the power company also is finalizing agreements with 17 of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities in which the agency would provide materials and the municipalities the crews to help repair streetlights.
Puerto Rico legislator Victor Pares, who oversees a committee holding public hearings on the matter, called the situation a "security emergency."
Other officials, including those with the island's Department of Transportation, are expected to testify in upcoming days.
Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, as a Category 4 storm. It destroyed the island's power grid and caused damage estimated at more than $100 billion.