A newly formed two-man firm that won a $30 million contract from the federal government to obtain tarps for the Hurricane Maria recovery effort failed to provide anything, the AP reported Tuesday, leaving tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans roofless for months as the government continues to scramble.
The recovery there has been slow and marred by missteps not seen in similarly affected areas like Houston and Florida, the most high-profile of which centered around Whitefish Energy, a two-man contractor originally tapped to fix Puerto Rico’s decimated electrical grid before the $300 million contract was canceled amid public outcry. After threatening to pull workers off the job over a critical tweet sent by the mayor of San Juan, the company stopped work altogether last week claiming it was owed $83 million for the work it had done so far. The stoppage came just two weeks after a power line repaired by Whitefish blew, plunging most of the island back into darkness.
The latest recovery misstep involves a newly formed and untested company called Bronze Star, which was contracted by FEMA to deliver emergency relief supplies in exchange for $30 million of taxpayer money. But it never provided anything, according to an exclusive report from the Associated Press.
Bronze Star told the AP it was unable to procure the tarps they’d been charged with supplying because their supplier was located in Houston, which was slammed by Hurricane Harvey in August. They claim that the manufacturers had assured them beforehand that they’d be able to provide the supplies on time, and when Bronze Star sought more time to secure the supplies from an alternate Chinese manufacturer, FEMA declined and cancelled the contract.
Michael Byrne, Puerto Rico’s FEMA coordination officer, told the Associated Press that at least 60,000 so-called “blue roofs,” the tarps that temporarily provide shelter to buildings that lost more-permanent tops in the storm, are needed in Puerto Rico. Right now, only about 350 are being installed daily.
The Florida-based Bronze Star was started in August of this year by two brothers, both military veterans, though neither has been awarded a Bronze Star. This was the company’s first government contract.
One of the brothers, Kayon Jones, told the Associated Press that FEMA cancelled the contracts on Nov. 6 after Bronze Star was unable to provide the promised supplies. According to AP, the cancellation occurred before any payments were made.
FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Bronze Star could not immediately be reached. There is no apparent website for the company, and the phone number listed on the federal website that lists contract recipients went unanswered.