Puerto Rico moves to cancel Whitefish power contract after uproar

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

The governor of Puerto Rico, the USA territory that was devastated by a hurricane a month ago, called Sunday for the immediate cancellation of a contract to restore electrical power to the Caribbean island as questions grow about the small company that was awarded the work.

Whitefish Energy, which had just two employees the day Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, now has about 325 people working on restringing transmission lines, clearing debris and erecting fallen poles.

FEMA says it hasn't approved any reimbursement requests from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority for money to cover the ongoing repairs to the island's power grid following Hurricane Maria.

Many people in the utility business had said that the authority, known as PREPA, would have been better off tapping into the well-established networks of utilities that have formed mutual aid groups expressly for the goal of emergency relief.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the contract awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings "raises every red flag in the book".

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Zinke says that neither he nor anyone in his office has advocated for the company. Whitefish has said the company has expertise in mountainous areas, and arrived in Puerto Rico before other companies.

And that the Puerto Rican government "waives any claim against contractor related to delayed completion of work". Despite the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's capital city San Juan still has much to offer visitors. Federal regulators say they have picked one of their own to do the job. Whitefish is based in the Montana town of the same name, which also is the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It had just two full-time employees when the storm hit on September 20. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zinke "just for clarification" purposes. Chiames, the Whitefish spokesman, has said that Colonnetta's political donations were "irrelevant" and that the company would co-operate with any federal authorities.

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

The list of players responsible for getting the lights on is long: The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for restoring an area after a disaster hits; the Army Corps of Engineers, which does the on-the-ground work of restoring power plants and distribution; Puerto Rico's state and local governments; and PREPA and a handful of private power companies hired by PREPA to do fix work.

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.

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