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Puerto Rico's Power Authority Cancels Controversial Whitefish Contract
30 October 2017, 01:52 | Franklin Nunez
Puerto Rican native Jose Martinez part of the USD men’s basketball team
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.
Whitefish Energy Holdings workers stand on towers to restore lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico on October 15.
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". Ramos said that given the utility is already bankrupt and under court supervision, it is the "most regulated company in the world".
Zinke on Friday issued a statement saying he "had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico", saying "I welcome all investigations into these allegations".
FEMA says its initial review raises significant concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted prices are reasonable. Whitefish has said the company has expertise in mountainous areas, and arrived in Puerto Rico before other companies.
Prepa and the Puerto Rican government are saddled with massive debts.
Ricardo Rosselló talks to students at Julio Selles Sola Elementary School during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. The 2-year-old company had just two full-time employees when the storm hit, but it has since hired more than 300 workers.
Questions have been raised not only about the selection of the firm, but also details of the Whitefish Energy contract, which say that no oversight is allowed by federal officials or the government of Puerto Rico. So PREPA CEO Ricardo Ramos made a deal with Whitefish, which asked for no such guarantee.
During a news conference Thursday, Rosselló said he was expecting an audit into Whitefish's $300 million contract.
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. Chiames, the Whitefish spokesman, has said that Colonnetta's political donations were "irrelevant" and that the company would co-operate with any federal authorities. In a bipartisan letter signed by leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, congressmen are seeking documents from Whitefish and asked for a briefing before committee staff by early November.
A federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico's finances announced this week that retired Air Force Col. Noel Zamot will be in charge of power reconstruction efforts.
The Department of Homeland Security says its has started an investigation of the awarding of the contract and will look for any "inappropriate relationships".
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