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Governor Cuomo to Deploy Utility Personnel to Puerto Rico

On Appearance on CNN, Governor Cuomo Honors Request to Deploy Utility Crews and Equipment Following Whitefish Controversy

Governor Cuomo: "It all starts with power. If you don't have power, pumps don't operate, people can't operate equipment to clean their home. So, it's very hard to get the society up and running until you have the power restored. And there's been very little progress on the power."

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was recently a guest on CNN with Fredricka Whitfield to discuss continued response efforts in Puerto Rico and to deploy utility crews and equipment following the Whitefish controversy.

A transcript of the Governor's interview is available below.

Fredricka Whitfield: Thank you for joining us Governor.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you for having me. I think the Governor made a very smart move today. There was controversy by the Whitefish company and the Whitefish contract and he announced that he was going to have an investigation and an audit. But that is all a frankly, sideshow to the main problem, which is as you said, 70 percent of people don't have power. It's a matter of life and death. I also think the "mutual aid" system will serve Puerto Rico better. What we have in this country is a mutual aid compact among states. We're celebrating the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy today in New York. We had about 25 states send utility trucks to New York to help us through Hurricane Sandy. So rather than going to one private company, the Governor is saying he wants to exercise mutual aid, where he asks other states to send down trucks, crews, pole diggers, pole setters, linemen, and they are then reimbursed by the federal government under this mutual aid. But I know just from the state of New York, I can send down hundreds of utility crews. So, I think in the long run that's a faster way to get this done anyway. I think he's doing a smart thing.

Fredricka Whitfield: So, Governor Rosselló has said that he has requested that kind of assistance from New York as well as from Florida. To what detail capacity are you able to send reinforcements? You just mentioned that you can send you know, hundreds of crews, but would it take even more than that?

Governor Cuomo: You know, it will need an estimate from the Puerto Rican power authority, as to how many crews they want. It could take one or two thousand crews just from what I've seen when I was in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Sandy for New York, Long Island, we had 6,000 crews and we had them literally in a matter of days. Now you have a complication with Puerto Rico that you're going to have to put the bucket trucks on a barge and transport them, that's going to be the longest period of time. And then you have a logistical operation on the island. Where do you house 6,000 workers? But those are logistically, issues that can be worked out. I think for sure this whole Whitefish situation, first of all, the job was not getting done quickly. Second of all, now with this investigation, etcetera, it was going to be a distraction. And the main point is that we're forgetting, this is day 36 and they have no power. These are American citizens.

Fredricka Whitfield: Is it your feeling that there should only be mutual aid? And no use of private contractors? Or do you have to have them all working together in concert?

Governor Cuomo: What often happens in mutual aid is you also use private contractors. So, for example in the state of New York, I had public utilities in the state of New York and we have private contractors that we use. Both would be sent from this state and through this state's apparatus, and they then get billed back through the federal government. But look, day 36 with no power, no clean water for many people, it's a matter of life and death. We just have to remember that these are Americans. Just imagine if this was any other state in this country. If these were Texans or New Yorkers or Californians, the outrage, the media coverage that you would be seeing. Puerto Ricans are Americans. Let's treat them that way.

Fredricka Whitfield: So, the improvements have not been fast enough, but with the people living there, you visited twice. Did you see any marked improvement between your two visits?

Governor Cuomo: Very little. It all starts with power. If you don't have power, pumps don't operate, people can't operate equipment to clean their home. So, it's very hard to get the society up and running until you have the power restored. And there's been very little progress on the power. I've heard the reports that Whitefish has people working. But you're talking about thousands of crews that you're going to need there. And they're nowhere near that capacity and it's been a month. The federal government knows how to do this. We do this literally, on a monthly basis in this country. When Texas had a problem, when Florida had a problem, New York State sends utility crews and they get assistance and then they come back. There was no reason for this to take 36 days. It's just frankly, because they didn't get the attention and I think we treat Puerto Ricans like second class Americans.

Fredricka Whitfield: We'll leave it there. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, thank you so much.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you for having me.