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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

LUMA threatens Isabela’s mayor with arrest for moving to restore town’s electricity supply

Isabela Mayor Miguel Méndez Pérez

By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar

Isabela Mayor Miguel “Ricky” Méndez Pérez had previously announced that if LUMA brigades did not show up a week after Hurricane Fiona hit his municipality, he would activate local units to restore electrical service in the northwestern coastal town.

He is not the first mayor to make such an announcement.

On Sunday morning, Méndez Pérez gave the order for brigades from the municipality and retired personnel from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to begin work to repair disabled power lines in Isabela. Such action had been taken following the approval of the amended Municipal Code 107 of 2020, which states in article 1. 018, subsection (v), that “if a state of emergency is declared, as described in the preceding subsection, the Mayor or his representative may carry out all the necessary steps and work to normalize or reestablish the electric power system, as well as the facilities for the supply and treatment of water and wastewater, after prior written notification to the Electric Power Authority and/or the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, as applicable.”

“I have been telling LUMA for more than a year that we can be contractors and work together with them because of situations in which we have been without electricity,” the mayor said. “Mr. José Pérez said they were going to prepare an agreement and have never done it; they have never reached it. We have been offering to be contractors for LUMA, but they do not communicate. As soon as the hurricane passed, we called their representatives and told them we were ready to collaborate, but nothing happened; they didn’t move.”

The mayor then decided to take matters into his own hands.

“We went out to the street and did a Facebook Live of what we were doing, and LUMA personnel arrived to take pictures of us. … Immediately, the police arrived, and they filed a complaint against us,” Méndez Pérez said. “That is against the law because [the Municipal Code] says I can collaborate with LUMA and PRASA.”

“LUMA’s attitude is threatening, in total contempt of the people,” the mayor charged. “Days have passed without electrical service; there are communities without water service because of the lack of electricity [to power the pumps].”

“If I have to make an agreement with LUMA, I will do it,” added the mayor of a town with some 50,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom are without basic service. “It has been very difficult for me to work with LUMA; the communication is abysmal, and we need to solve the electricity problem.”

“They don’t communicate, and they don’t say anything. We don’t know anything about what LUMA is doing about the problem. We have seen very little LUMA equipment,” Méndez Pérez continued. “They tell me I can’t work on the lines, to cease work immediately, and obviously, I haven’t stopped. I’m still working.”

“We have a brigade of six people and have already restored several sectors,” the mayor noted. “People are happy and applaud us; they are waiting for us in the streets because they don’t see LUMA brigades. They see the municipality.”

“LUMA has to be empathetic with the people. We are suffering; people need electrical service,” Méndez Pérez insisted. “Let them give themselves body and soul to help the people.”

The letter from the private consortium that operates the island’s electricity transmission and distribution (T&D) system states that “LUMA requests that the municipality refrain from repairing any asset of the T&D System.”

“LUMA does not approve or authorize repairs to the T&D System performed by personnel not employed by and under the supervision of LUMA,” the letter continues. “If the municipality performs any repairs to the T&D System, LUMA is not responsible for any damage caused to the T&D System, nor for damages suffered by customers or persons.”

Finally, the letter urges the Municipality of Isabela “to support the restoration efforts planned by LUMA.”

For the mayor, that amounts to additional abuse.

“Do they think that with a police complaint against this public servant, they will solve something?” Méndez Pérez said. “Let LUMA make their allegations to the thousands of townspeople who are in the dark and that because of the mediocrity of this company, no one knows when they will restore our service.”

The complaint against the mayor, No. 2022-10-037-004512, was filed by agent Ángel L. Concepción, badge number 33700.

Lawmakers: Towns can provide power, water service repair

Also on Sunday, the New Party Progressive Party minority leader in the island House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, and Rep. José Enrique “Quiquito” Meléndez reminded the island’s mayors that Law 107-2020, the Municipal Code of Puerto Rico, was amended to provide city halls with powers to repair electrical systems, as well as drinking water systems, in their respective municipalities.

“This was a measure that facilitated the restoration of the electrical network after the onslaught of Hurricane Maria in September 2017,” Meléndez said in a written statement. “It is the mayors who best know the needs of their municipalities, who know where there are those ‘pockets’ without electricity and the areas that need to be rehabilitated to energize them. They have, with Law 107-2020, the power to assist in the reconnection of the electricity system. This power is available to the 78 mayors of Puerto Rico.”

One week after the passage of Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 hurricane, hundreds of thousands of families still do not have electric power service.

In January 2018, Méndez and Meléndez filed House Bill 1380, which amended the Puerto Rico Autonomous Municipalities Act to establish that power.

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