Puerto Rico governor says contract to Whitefish company should be canceled

Puerto Rico's Frantic Search for Someone to Turn on the Lights

White House: Federal government, Zinke had 'no role' in electric contract awarded to Montana firm

Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Sunday called for the termination of a $300 million contract to fix Puerto Rico's hurricane-damaged electricity infrastructure awarded to a tiny Montana utility company financed by major donors to President Donald Trump.

The controversy over the no-bid contract previously set off a Twitter feud between the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, and the company, which is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"We need answers from Whitefish, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the federal government - and we need them soon", McCaskill said.

Some 75% of Puerto Ricans have no power five weeks after Hurricane Maria. Right now, a tangle of federal agencies, private contractors and island authorities are struggling to work together to get the power working.

Whitefish Energy Holdings workers stand on towers to restore lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico on October 15. Whitefish had just two employees when Maria struck the island.

The $300 million contract between Puerto Rico's power utility and the Montana-based energy firm has been criticized in recent days.

The specific terms of the contract also raised eyebrows, from the exorbitant hourly rates charged by Whitefish to its barring of a government audit.

"Usually after huge power outages, electric companies arrange mutual aid agreements with utilities elsewhere to bring in workers to help restore power".

In defense of the contract with Whitefish, Puerto Rico officials have said the company was willing to work without a down payment, which made it more attractive to the debt-ridden island. Zinke met with President Donald Trump on Friday morning, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump did ask Zinke about the contract, to which Zinke denied involvement.

In a statement on Thursday, Fema said: "Any language in any contract between Prepa and Whitefish that states Fema approved that contract is inaccurate". Rosselló added that the contract "appeared to comply 100% with FEMA regulations".

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, has vowed to hold a hearing on the contract.

"The first I heard of the Whitefish Energy contract was through the news", he said.

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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