A recently created Florida business was stripped of a $30 million order to provide tarps and plastic sheeting to repair houses in Puerto Rico that were damaged by Hurricane Maria more than two months ago.
Bronze Star LLC, which has a residential address in St. Cloud, lost two contracts to provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency with 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting, according to a Nov. 28 report by the Associated Press. FEMA reportedly terminated the contracts on Nov. 6, about four weeks after no products were delivered.
The report raises questions about the government's procurement process, the availability of supplies and the slow rebuilding process in the U.S. territory, where 34 percent of the island remains without power from the Sept. 20 storm and the death toll has increased to 58.
At least 60,000 roofs need repair and about 350 are being covered daily in plastic sheeting, according to Michael Byrne, Puerto Rico's FEMA coordination officer.
“One of the limiting factors is the availability of the material,” Byrne told AP.
However, another FEMA spokesman, Ron Roth, told AP that while the Bronze Star contract problem has delayed delivery of tarps, everyone who needs one should be able to get one because more than 93,000 tarps have been sent to distribution centers on the island.
Kayon Jones, who formed Bronze Star in August with his brother, told AP that manufacturers had assured him they could provide the requested products prior to the bid submission, but later said they could not meet the government's requirements.
FEMA has restarted the process to obtain more tarps and plastic sheeting. But that could prove difficult, even for well-established businesses, according to Michael Stein, owner of Abadak Inc., a Georgetown, Texas-based importer.
“There's definitely a light-duty tarp shortage because of the trifecta of three major hurricanes in Texas, Miami and the Caribbean,” Stein told Plastics News in a phone interview. “It has really wiped us and everyone out. This is not a huge industry.”
Founded in 1999, Abadak, which does business as Tarps Plus, imports from Chinese manufacturers. The business was a leading tarp supplier during the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Stein said.
To prepare for more rainy days, it had set aside what he describes as an unusually large inventory of 10,000 units for many years. Then, Hurricane Harvey swirled around the Gulf Coast from Aug. 24-29, making landfall four times and causing a record-breaking $200 billion of damage.
“We had stocked up 10,000 pieces, which is an obscene amount for one color, one grade,” Stein said. “We exhausted that with Harvey here in Texas. That was gone after a couple weeks.”
Stein said he fielded another surge in tarp requests on Nov. 30, when the government reopened a bid seeking 600,000 20-by-25-foot tarps. Stein figured that's about a $25 million order that will take a while to fill.
“No one will carry more than we did with 10,000 pieces, let alone 600,000 pieces. No one has stockpiled that,” Stein said.
There are only a few U.S. manufacturers of the kind of tarps and plastic sheeting that FEMA specifies. One is Sioux Falls, S.D.-based film extruder Raven Industries Inc.
Raven, which is publicly held, reported a near-record third quarter for its engineered film division, with sales up almost 70 percent compared to the prior year. About $8 million in sales came from hurricane recovery film.
“The unusually active hurricane season drove the need for recovery film, and [the division] was nimble and able to modify its production schedules to aid in the recovery process. Sales of hurricane film are continuing into the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018, and we expect another $8 million to $9 million of sales from these films in the fourth quarter,” Raven Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Steven Brazones said in a Nov. 19 earnings call.
Raven is running at 80-85 percent capacity right now, he added, and recently invested $13.5 million into a line that will increase capacity by about 20 million pounds.
Stein said his tarps come from Chinese “factories that are like our factories,” thanks to long business relationships. He plans to submit a bid to FEMA even though he can't check any boxes for being a veteran- or minority-owned business or having a product made in the USA.
“We can make this happen now if they're willing to work with like 30 different sizes, or if they order now, we can get it to them in eight to 10 weeks,” Stein said. “Six hundred thousand pieces is an enormous amount of production.”