Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Cancellation of Power Grid Repair Contract

FEMA probes $300M no-bid contract to Team Trump-linked company

After days of questions about the awarding of a $300 million, no bid contract to a small firm from Montana to restore power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the Governor of Puerto Rico on Sunday said it was time to cancel the contract between Whitefish Energy and the Puerto Rican electrical authority.

Whitefish Energy Holdings was awarded the 300-million-dollar contract by state electricity company PREPA, but the 2-year-old company only had two full-time employees until September, according to local media reports.

The Puerto Rican power authority's decision to forego "mutual aid" agreements with utilities from other areas - as is traditional after large-scale disasters - and assign the job to a for-profit company instead baffled many experts.

"Following the information that has emerged, and with the goal of protecting public interest, as governor I am asking government and energy authorities to immediately activate the clause to cancel the contract to Whitefish Energy", Rossello said in a statement.

"The first I heard of the Whitefish Energy contract was through the news", he said.

In defense of the contract with Whitefish, Puerto Rico officials have said the company was willing to work without a down payment, which made it more attractive to the debt-ridden island. 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. It has been working under contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

A report in The Washington Post, noting that the company is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, set off a storm of criticism this week and triggered calls for inquiries by Congress. A month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, 75 percent of the island is still without power.

FEMA has denied approving the contract.

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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.

The secretary says in a statement that he had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico to help restore the USA territory's power grid.

Congressional Democrats are calling for an investigation into how Whitefish got the contract.

"The White House is not aware of any federal involvement in the selection", White House spokesman Raj Shah said.

The US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Caribbean island, is also scrutinising the contract.

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.

But last week Rosselló asked the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to review the contracting process, even while seeming to defend Whitefish for "providing important recovery services to PREPA in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which completely destroyed the Island's electrical grid system".

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