Puerto Rico moves to cancel Whitefish power contract after uproar


The governor of Puerto Rico called for the cancellation of a controversial $300 million contract the island's utility signed with a small Montana-based company tasked with a central role in repairing the territory's hurricane-ravaged electric power grid.

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".

"As soon as this whole issue was interpreted by the tabloids that PREPA has given away $300 million to a company with little experience.if you read that, and you have no light and no water that perception changes abruptly to the extent that the last four days they´ve been throwing stones and bottles" at workers, Ramos said.

In a statement Friday, Zinke labeled as "completely baseless" any "attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract" involving Whitefish Energy Holdings.

The inspector general plans to look into whether the appropriate process was followed by state-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, when it awarded the contract.

"Neither myself nor anyone in my office has advocated for this company in any way", he said, though he did note the company had contacted him "after the initial contract was awarded". The government already paid Whitefish $8 million and does not expect the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse that sum, the sources said.

Prepa and the Puerto Rican government are saddled with massive debts.

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

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump asked Zinke about the contract and the cabinet secretary said he was not involved.

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

"This is a contract that was determined by local authorities", she said, asserting that the federal government "has nothing to do" with the contract.

Members of Congress have called for an investigation into the contract.

The company did not immediately return BBC News' request for comment on the governor's statement.

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.

Some 75% of Puerto Ricans have no power five weeks after Hurricane Maria.

The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) distanced themselves from the deal last week.

This week, Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, sent the power company director a letter demanding documents, including those related to the contract with Whitefish and others that show what authority the agency has to deviate from normal contracting processes.

Previously Congressional Democrats began asking the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the contract.