Puerto Rico's governor is demanding that the island's power company cancel the $300M contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings amid increased scrutiny of the Montana company following Hurricane Maria.
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". "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless".
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat born on the island, who has been active in pushing for resources for Puerto Rico's recovery, said Zamot's appointment is "completely appropriate" because PREPA chose to forgo mutual aid agreements with other power authorities - a type of voluntary partnership that allows for companies to easily share resources to get power up and running as quickly as possible after a disaster - and hire Whitefish. The statement went on to say, "The decision to award a contract to Whitefish Energy was made exclusively by PREPA". Whitefish has said the company has expertise in mountainous areas, and arrived in Puerto Rico before other companies. He also flew to Puerto Rico in a "leap of faith" in hopes of getting the contract. And the firm is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of President Trump's Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. A month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, 75 percent of the island is still without power. Whitefish had just two employees when Maria struck the island. Federal regulators say they have picked one of their own to do the job.
The White House and FEMA, the federal disaster management agency, said on Friday they had nothing to do with hiring Whitefish Energy to restore power in the US commonwealth. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's (PREPA) Director Ricardo Ramos said that he had to consider the "delay risk" of agreeing to cancel the contract.
During a news conference Thursday, Rosselló said he was expecting an audit into Whitefish's $300 million contract.
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Scott's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A Whitefish contract obtained by The Associated Press found that the deal included $20,277 an hour for a heavy lift Chinook helicopter, $650 an hour for a large crane truck, $322 an hour for a foreman of a power line crew, $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman and $286 an hour for a mechanic.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana told the AP that he did not know Whitefish or its CEO, Andy Techmanski, and said he was surprised it was able to secure the contract.
But the industry plan may conflict with the goals of the federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico's troubled finances.
Previously Congressional Democrats began asking the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the contract.