- The $300 million dollar contract awarded to Montana-based Whitefish Energy to help rebuild Puerto Rico's electric grid is under increasing scrutiny, with the the mayor of San Juan calling for it to be voided and Democrats in Congress demanding a review.
- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello yesterday in a tweet said he had asked the Office of the Inspector General to conduct a review of the contracting process. Separately, the financial oversight board of Prepa, Puerto Rico's indebted utility, announced Wednesday that it would name Noel Zamot, a member of the board and a retired senior military officer, as chief transformation officer, whose first priority is power restoration efforts.
- PREPA contracted with Whitefish, rather than using mutual aid from other utilities, but at the time it landed the deal, the company had only two employees. Some ties to the Trump administration have since emerged, linking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to the company's CEO.
The small Montana power company now at the center of Puerto Rico's recovery and a swirling contracting controversy. The controversy spilled over on Twitter Wednesday, as the company lashed out in a public battle with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, before regrouping and saying the company is committed to helping the island.
After Cruz criticized the contracting process on Twitter, Whitefish threatened to yank its employees from the island and said "we share frustration with Mayor Cruz on the situation in Puerto Rico, but her comments are misplaced."
We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?— Whitefish Energy (@WhitefishEnergy) October 25, 2017
Later in the day, Whitefish's Twitter account posted an apology for the comments. "We have a strong team on the ground, we are working hard and making good progress," it said.
The process for awarding the contract has come under intense scrutiny and criticism. The company was hired by PREPA shortly after Hurricane Maria, before mutual aid programs could be coordinated. Whitefish hails from Secretary of Energy Ryan Zinke's hometown of the same name, prompting questions over how a little-known company landed such a high-profile gig. When the contract was announced, Whitefish had only two full-time employees though it has scaled up quickly and has workers now in Puerto Rico.
CNN reports Zinke and Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski have admitted they know one another. As a result of the controversy, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell has called for the Government Accountability Office to look into the contract. Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva from Arizona also said in a statement that "Congress needs to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded."
About three-quarters of Puerto Ricans remain without power currently a month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Gov. Rossello has also opposed the idea of an emergency manager to run the island's utility. Zamot would have additional oversight over operations, and the financial oversight board has the authority to cancel Whitefish's $300 million contract, according to The Washington Examiner.