Undergrounding electrical cables ‘urgent’ in Old San Juan
Old San Juan, PUERTO RICO – While much of Old San Juan continues in the dark after the onslaught of Hurricane María, New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Eddie Charbonier assured that the priority once electricity is restored will be to bury the power lines of the tourism area.
The legislator, who is leading efforts to restore power to Old San Juan, told Caribbean Business that he will be initiating dialogue, primarily at the federal level, with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, to attract funds to bury the cabling of the walled city’s 64 blocks.
“Once we restore Puerto Rico, in all the areas were we can bury–and Old San Juan already has three underground sections, this is no joke–we’re undergrounding. Hurricanes will continue coming; this is going to happen. Undergrounding Old San Juan is urgent,” the lawmaker said.
After assuring the quick restoration of electric service in Old San Juan, the executive director of the Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Ricardo Ramos, said at a press conference in La Fortaleza that the location of the power lines on roofs makes it difficult to get work done.
“The Authority had an undergrounding project years ago [in Old San Juan]. The permit was obtained with the Institute of Culture. It was the residents themselves who said no because the power lines over the homes and their crossings have become something folkloric,” he said.
Charbonier stressed the importance of modernizing the old town’s infrastructure to prevent economic activity from being ground to a halt again were another storm the magnitude of the Category 4 hurricane that enveloped the island last September to occur.
“Eventually–San Juan being the capital–the government has to start remodeling all its infrastructure,” the representative said from his office in the Capitol. “This was not damaged in four years. The time has come to evaluate other alternatives for energy production in Puerto Rico,” he added.
Charbonier explained that the process would start at the Capitol, with a resolution to establish viability. He recalled that Old San Juan is the “government’s headquarters,” home to the Capitol and La Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence and office, and therefore cannot afford another electric service collapse.
Last week, business people, employees and Old San Juan residents demanded in protest that Prepa bring the island’s tourism center back to life. The grid’s collapse has kept more than 750 businesses from operating more than six weeks of María and the direct impact to the economy could be in the millions of dollars.
Juan Fernández, spokesman for Old San Juan businesses, told CB that some 10,000 jobs are at risk on the line due to the lack of electricity. “In Old San Juan, we cannot afford that it be paralyzed,” he said.
“Since [Thursday], they began to see Electric Power Authority trucks on the streets, and just seeing the trucks produced an emotional change in all the businesses and people who are thinking of closing permanently, [now] they are thinking about it. We just hope arriving on time so it does not happen and, if it happened, that they come back,” Fernández said.
The owner of Luma Pharmacy regretted that 100% of business stopped due to the lack of power service, with the exception of several businesses that have “an underground system that reaches Fortaleza.” Those who had generators saw no profits due to the high cost of running them.
The NPP legislator explained that “we cannot count how many employees we have already lost, who left and won’t return.” Once the service is restored in Old San Juan, the representative will ask Prepa to turn to the Condado and Miramar areas and finally, Calle Loíza.
Tourism a priority
Recently, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. announced that San Juan was chosen by travel guide Lonely Planet as one of the cities to visit in 2018. Even though the list was compiled before the hurricane, the publication said it trusts the capital will recover from the impact.
Faced with the reality that Old San Juan is an “economic engine” for Puerto Rico, the president of the Capital City Development and Youth Affairs Committee said he would cite Tourism Executive Director José Izquierdo to discuss concrete efforts that reactivate tourism.
Charbonier stressed that “it isn’t worthwhile for tourists to arrive if there is no power,” thus he will demand from the government “whatever has to be done so people return to Old San Juan “once the town, which 47 days after María continues devoid of its usual bustle, is powered.
“You have to start not only with Old San Juan, [also] Calle Loíza, Condado. To reactivate everything that is tourism and business,” Charbonier said. “Once we have electricity, economic movement begins, the generation of jobs begins, people start moving,” he added.