Puerto Rico's governor wants controversial $300 million Whitefish contract canceled

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez

Andrew Techmanski's company, Whitefish Energy Holdings in Montana, was recently awarded a $300 million contract for restoration of Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Ricardo Ramos - executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA - announced the decision to journalists just hours after the U.S. territory's governor urged the cancellation of the deal with the Montana-based Whitefish Energy Holdings, as controversy mounted over how it was struck.

"There can not be any distraction that alters the commitment of raising the electric system as quickly as possible", Rossello said. Ramos said that given the utility is already bankrupt and under court supervision, it is the "most regulated company in the world".

"Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless", he says in a statement.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said the board of the island's power company should rescind the $300 million pact with Whitefish Energy Holdings, an upstart fix company in Montana, a western US state, even though just days ago he defended the contract. Whitefish has said the company has expertise in mountainous areas, and arrived in Puerto Rico before other companies. The Puerto Rican government admitted that 911 people had died of "natural causes" after the storm.

The company is headquartered in the town of Whitefish, the hometown of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He went on to become CEO of Whitefish two years ago.

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"They're doing an excellent job", he said.

He also said he had requested an investigation into how the contract between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Whitefish was decided so quickly. Rossello and other officials have rejected the appointment, saying the local government is in charge of a power company that is $9 billion in debt and had struggled with outages before hurricanes Irma and Maria last month.

FEMA said it has not approved any reimbursement requests from the power company for money to cover repairs to the island's electrical system.

The Associated Press obtained Whitefish's contract, which called for payments of $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. 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.

Though Zinke and Techmanski acknowledge knowing one another, the Interior Department and Techmanski both told the Washington Post the secretary played no role in Whitefish securing the contract.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello has also asked the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to look into the deal.

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