Cantera community to meet with PREPA on collaborative agreement

By John McPhaul

The Company for the Integral Development of the Cantera Peninsula (CDIPC by its Spanish initials) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) agreed to meet next Tuesday at CDIPC headquarters to refine the details of a collaborative agreement regarding the connection of residents to a new distribution system, in which the community already has invested $1.6 million, in order to improve deteriorating electrical service that in recent months has presented weekly interruptions of up to 56 hours.

The agreement was made during a public hearing held by the House of Representatives Capital City Development Committee and Youth Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Eddie Charbonier Chinea, who questioned the reasons for PREPA’s non-compliance with the residents of San Juan’s Cantera sector.

Charbonier Chinea was emphatic in pointing out that if a sector experiences so many interruptions “it must be on PREPA’s priority list of places to attend to,” so that the utility does not have to continually assign brigades to resolve the emergencies.

“Please make Cantera -- I say this as a personal request, not as a representative, but as a human being -- make them a priority in your shifts, in your offices, because this situation is unsustainable,” the legislator said in a written statement, adding that in these communities elderly residents need electricity for connection to machines and for other health-related needs, so the lack of electricity negatively affects their health.

After a public hearing on Feb. 12, the participants determined that the agreement would be signed in a week, but that action was stopped when a flag was raised over two conflicting points related to the costs of the primary lines, which according to CDIPC Executive Director Francine Sánchez Marcano must be paid for by PREPA, the process of handling accounts that have debts and the informal use of electrical service.

Sánchez Marcano said that at that meeting the CDIPC proposed to discuss these necessary points for the signing of the agreement “and we made an investment of $1.6 million, which was not our responsibility; however, the community recognized that this was a priority, so that cost was assumed, but with the [outstanding] sum of $568,575, we cannot assume that, and it must appear in the collaborative agreement that PREPA is going to have a commitment to the community and that it is going to identify that money to correct it.”

The sum is for improvements that PREPA’s system needs, Sánchez Marcano said, pointing out that “it is very difficult to sign an agreement when they are treating us as if we were a private entity and we are another government agency, just like them.”

“So they have to take responsibility,” she said.

The community leader added that they could be closer to reaching an agreement on the issue of accounts with debts, but because many of them are illegally connected to the grid they must be worked on individually.

Gertrudis Calderón Hernandez, president of the Cantera Peninsula Neighborhood Development Council, asked PREPA meanwhile for a certain date for the start of work to improve the system since “seven months have passed and the claim remains the same.”

“This time we feel hopeless, in complete distrust of any agreement that has been made previously,” she said. “Health continues to deteriorate, appliances continue to be damaged, complaints continue to be submitted and our electrical system worsens. We are here again in the same scenario as seven months ago. Our question is, what else can we expect?”

During the public hearing process, Rep. Manuel Natal Albelo, when requesting a breakdown of the $568,575 necessary to be able to start the connection to the new system, questioned the fact that since Feb. 12, when the understanding was reached to sign a collaborative agreement, PREPA signed 106 contracts in excess of $154 million, according to the island Comptroller’s Office website.

“What this community needs is half a million dollars and PREPA tells us that it does not have the money to do the work, but it also confirms that they have not made any efforts to request that money from the government of Puerto Rico itself, or from federal entities that could have the money,” the legislator said, pointing out that if this situation occurred in a community with greater economic resources, it would have been resolved immediately.

Meanwhile, Sen. Henry Neumann Zayas of San Juan objected strongly to the fact that PREPA itself has for years perpetuated the situation with the electrical system in Cantera to the point that the community must request that an agreement be signed due to mistrust of the public corporation that is obligated to offer electrical service, for which the residents pay.

“That half a million dollars does not appear for this community, when they have already invested $1.6 million -- you owe them $1.6 million,” Neumann Zayas said. “Why? Because that is not part of what a community must do in order to have electricity. You owe it to them!”

The senator said that due to all the losses in household goods and quality of life that Cantera residents have sustained, “this has to be a clean slate, once you have the necessary infrastructure in place to provide a service this community deserves.”

“This has to be a priority,” Neumann Zayas said. “I recognize that there are fewer people [working] in PREPA, but this situation has been occurring in this area for the past 50 years. The situation is such that a director of that agency must order that until this problem is solved, the brigades must not leave the place.”

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