Puerto Rico governor says contract to Whitefish company should be canceled

Puerto Rico governor says contract to Whitefish company should be canceled

Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Sunday asked the Governing Board of the Electric Power Authority to cancel the contract, according to the governor's official Twitter account. The contract went to a tiny Montana company from the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Rossello said that at least $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far, but "there can not be any kind of distraction that alters the commitment to restore electrical power as soon as possible in Puerto Rico".

When Maria slammed Puerto Rico on September 20 as a Category 4 storm, it leveled an already-fragile infrastructure, essentially wiping out power to the entire island.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Whitefish, which received the largest contract yet awarded in the troubled relief effort, had only two full-time employees on the day Maria hit the island.

Rossello referred to the Whitefish Energy contract as a "distraction" after questions were raised about the company's capability to handle the restoration project.

Under the contract, Whitefish is charging $330 an hour for a site supervisor and $227.88 an hour for a "journeyman lineman". Some critics of the deal with the for-profit company say the island should have opted to use a mutual-aid network of public utilities that usually are called on for massive fix work after natural disasters. "This was a state and local decision made by the Puerto Rican authorities and not the federal government", Sanders said.

The Trump administration denied Friday (Oct. 27) that political connections had anything to do with restoring electrical connections in Puerto Rico, and Zinke said Friday he had nothing to do with the contract.

The Whitefish Energy contract also had a clause that said that the pay rates and other terms of the agreement could not be audited or reviewed by FEMA or the General Accounting Office.It also said that FEMA had reviewed and approved the agreement and that the agency would reimburse PREPA or Whitefish Energy for emergency expenditures. Rosselló added that the contract "appeared to comply 100% with FEMA regulations".

The US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Caribbean island, is also scrutinising the contract.

During a news conference Thursday, Rosselló said he was expecting an audit into Whitefish's $300 million contract.

But last week Rosselló asked the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to review the contracting process, even while seeming to defend Whitefish for "providing important recovery services to PREPA in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which completely destroyed the Island's electrical grid system".

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