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Army contracts for temporary electricity for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

By James LaPorta
Army contracts for temporary electricity for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Army has signed a contract with the Louis Berger Group to support temporary power to parts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that remain without electricity since the islands were slammed by Hurricane Maria in September. Picture, members of the Army deliver supplies to people affected by the storm in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army has awarded a contract with The Louis Berger Group Inc. to support critically needed temporary electricity for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

The $860 million deal, announced last week by the Department of Defense, comes after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked Congress for a $94.4 billion relief package for the severely damaged U.S. territory. Congress has already approved nearly $5 billion in aid to the region after Hurricane Maria swept up more than 472,000 homes in mid-September.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that 60 percent of the island still does not have electricity nearly two months after the Category 5 hurricane made landfall.

Rosselló faced a barrage of questions from Congressional lawmakers concerning the enormous request for aid and the botched $300 million dollar deal to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm with two-full time employees that was briefly contracted to restore electricity in the region.

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Rosselló denied that he played a role in awarding the high-priced contract to Whitefish, following suit with similar statements made in October by The White House saying the federal government had no involvement in awarding the contract to the Montana company in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown.

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The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general said that federal auditors will review the Whitefish contract.

Rosselló also asked for Puerto Rico to be excluded from a proposed excise tax of 20 percent for merchandise manufactured abroad, adding that products made in the region and imported into the U.S. should be considered domestic products instead of international exports.

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Last Monday, Rosselló told reporters he is seeking $46 billion to restore housing through the Community Development Block Grant Program from the U.S. Department of House and Urban Development. Additionally, $30 billion will be sought from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild critical infrastructure and $17.9 billion will come through other federal grant programs for long-term recovery of Puerto Rico.

Work and funding on the contract between the U.S. Army and the Louis Berger Group Inc. will be determined with each order. Officials say work will be completed in September 2018.

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