Puerto Rico's governor: Cancel Whitefish contract

Jose Martinez

Puerto Rico's government power company said on Sunday it will cancel a $300 million contract with a tiny Montana company to restore power to the storm-hit US territory after an uproar over the deal.

Whitefish said in a statement it was "disappointed" in the decision, adding that it will "only delay what the people of Puerto Rico want and deserve - to have the power restored quickly in the same manner their fellow citizens on the mainland experience after a natural disaster". It has since hired more than 300 workers.

FEMA said in a statement Friday that any language in the contract saying the agency approved the deal with Whitefish Energy Holdings is inaccurate.

Ramos said contract terms with Whitefish meant that the cancellation would become effective 30 days from notice and, signaling potential intricacies, explained that there were "a lot of logistics involved".

Ramos said he had not talked with Whitefish executives about his announcement.

"FEMA is presently engaged with PREPA and its legal counsel to obtain information about the contract and contracting process, including how the contract was procured and how PREPA determined the contract prices were reasonable", it said.

Federal investigators have been looking into the contract awarded to the small company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown and the deal is being audited at the local and federal level.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Whitefish, which received the largest contract yet awarded in the troubled relief effort, had only two full-time employees on the day Maria hit the island.

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Whitefish and PREPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Zinke met with President Donald Trump on Friday morning, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump did ask Zinke about the contract, to which Zinke denied involvement.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana told the AP that he did not know Whitefish or its CEO, Andy Techmanski, and said he was surprised it was able to secure the contract.

The contract states that "Prepa hereby represents and warrants that Fema has reviewed and approved of this Contract".

Whitefish has said that its expertise working in mountainous terrain qualifies it for the job and that its business model calls for rapidly expanding using subcontractors. Chiames, the Whitefish spokesman, has said that Colonnetta's political donations were "irrelevant" and that the company would co-operate with any federal authorities. More than 80 percent of people living in Puerto Rico are still without power.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested documents related to the contract from Whitefish.

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.

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has launched a review of the deal.

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