Published: Mon, October 30, 2017
Global Media | By Garry Long

Puerto Rico Gov. Seeks Immediate Cancellation Of Whitefish Energy Contract

Puerto Rico Gov. Seeks Immediate Cancellation Of Whitefish Energy Contract

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello demanded that the island's power authority cancel its controversial $300 million contract with a little-known Montana firm to restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Maria. And the firm is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of President Trump's Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

"There can be no distraction that alters the commitment to restore the electrical system as quickly as possible", Gov. Ricardo Rossello said on Sunday morning, as he moved to ask for mutual aid from the US mainland to fix his island's decimated power grid.

The competing visions show how hard it has been to restore electricity to three-quarters of the residents of Puerto Rico, who remain in the dark more than a month after Hurricane Maria tore through the USA territory.

"This is a contract that was determined by local authorities", she said, asserting that the federal government "has nothing to do" with the contract. The company only had two employees the day Hurricane Maria hit.

The governor also did not say how the utility would disentangle itself from the contract with Whitefish Energy.

Critics have queried why Puerto Rican authorities did not seek aid from other public utility companies - as is customary during disasters.

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Under the contract, Whitefish is charging $330 an hour for a site supervisor and $227.88 an hour for a "journeyman lineman". White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zinke "just for clarification" purposes. He said in a statement Friday, "I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico". Rosselló added that the contract "appeared to comply 100% with FEMA regulations".

Prepa and the Puerto Rican government are saddled with massive debts.

Raul Grijalva of Arizona, senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said on Tuesday, "Congress needs to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded and whether other, more cost-effective options were available".

Rossello had previously requested the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security inspect the deal. He also flew to Puerto Rico in a "leap of faith" in hopes of getting the contract.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello defended the deal in a statement, though he said his administration would review PREPA's contracting practices.

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

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