Puerto Rico governor: Scrap Whitefish energy grid deal

Phillip Cunningham
October 30, 2017

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. The group, he said, is "working with all the authorities to try to [install] a storm boss, or a power restoration coordinator, to align all the various work streams".

PREPA's CEO Ricardo Ramos told CNN he picked Whitefish because it did not demand a down payment and agreed to take care of the logistics for workers' housing and food. "But as NPR's Laurel Wamsley has reported, "(p) ower companies don't generally use contractors to restore electricity but make arrangements for help from other utilities". "Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way".

Scott's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The governor also announced the appointment of an outside co-ordinator to oversee the power company's purchase and contracting division.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it had no involvement in the decision to award a $300 million contract to help restore Puerto Rico's damaged power grid.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello defended the deal in a statement, though he said his administration would review PREPA's contracting practices.

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.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat born on the island, who has been active in pushing for resources for Puerto Rico's recovery, said Zamot's appointment is "completely appropriate" because PREPA made a decision to forgo mutual aid agreements with other power authorities - a type of voluntary partnership that allows for companies to easily share resources to get power up and running as quickly as possible after a disaster - and hire Whitefish. She said she also wants the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, to investigate, adding to the list of possible investigations. "FEMA was not involved in the selection".

A Whitefish contract obtained by The Associated Press found that the deal included $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.

A financial oversight board Congress created for Puerto Rico is planning to go to a federal court this week to seek clear authority to examine contracts as small as $10 million. The contract said the utility would not pay costs unallowable under FEMA grants, but it also said, "The federal government is not a party to this contract".

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