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Leader of Army Corps' Puerto Rico power restoration effort talks about the challenges

By CONNOR HOFFMAN | Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y. | Published: December 10, 2017

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Col. John Lloyd's current mission is a tough one.

In fact, the Lockport native, who is leading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to restore power to Puerto Rico, characterizes his current duties as "probably one of the hardest missions we're doing right now."

"(Hurricane) Maria caused about 80 percent damage to the grid here in Puerto Rico and about 65 percent of the transmission and distribution lines in Puerto Rico were damaged or destroyed ... The grid system here in Puerto Rico. The average age of power plants here is about 40 years old, comparable to other power plants either on the mainlands or other similar islands where they are about 18," he said. "So you have a system with a lot of challenges to it and that's really why it's taking so long for the recovery effort."

Lloyd, the commander of the U.S. Army Corps Task Force for Power Restoration, said many parts of the island still need power systems rebuilt. He said the amount of material ordered to carry out the restoration has been notable as well.

"So we're talking on the magnitude of about 15,000 poles that have to be manufactured and then shipped in from the mainland to here, along with millions of other components to rebuild the system," he said. "The majority of that material is not available here on the island."

He noted that all of the material has to be remanufactured and then shipped in by a barge.

To further put into perspective how much of a challenge restoration is, Lloyd said, unlike a city like Lockport, in Puerto Rico there is not much preventive maintenance done to keep vegetation out of the way of power lines.

He added that he feels reporting about the recovery effort has understated just how much of a challenge his crew is facing right now and that people try to compare it to other areas impacted by hurricanes recently, like Florida.

"All the crews, minus the internal utility crews that are here, all their utility trucks have to be barged in. All of the material have to be brought in by boat or plane, so that just takes time to get that amount of people and equipment for the magnitude of damage we're seeing here. I think people want to compare it places like Florida, but you just can't. It's just different with the magnitude of the storm and just the amount of challenges that we see here," he said.

Lloyd said that usually his crews are received pretty well by the locals when they come work on the power lines.

"I think the reception we typically get has been very good. Very well received, obviously people are always excited when crews are in their neighborhoods working on those lines. I had a chance the other day ... I was out with one of the crews when actually power was restored to a neighborhood. Very exciting time for everybody," he said.

Lloyd graduated from Lockport High School in 1986 and enlisted in the army after graduation. He assumed command of the Pittsburgh District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on July 29, 2016. As the commander he has been responsible for carrying out the district’s mission within the Ohio River Basin.

Prior to his assignment with the Pittsburgh district, Lloyd served in a variety of engineer command and leadership positions to include battalion commander of the 19th Engineer Battalion at Fort Knox. Before commanding the 19th Engineer Battalion, Lloyd served as the Army Fellow assigned to the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.

©2017 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)
Visit the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) at lockportjournal.com
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A screen capture from an Army Corps of Engineers video shows Col. John Lloyd, center, commander of Task Force Power Restoration in Puerto Rico.
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