Puerto Rico Governor Calls For Termination Of Whitefish Contract

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30 October, 2017

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.

Sunday's announcement by Gov. Ricardo Rossello comes as federal legislators are seeking to investigate the contract awarded to the small company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown.

"There can not be any distraction that alters the commitment of raising electric system as soon as possible", Rossello said of the contract, which came under scrutiny last week.

PREPA tapped Whitefish to restore electric infrastructure in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which knocked out 80 percent of the US territory's transmission lines.

Whitefish and the island's public utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, struck an agreement on September 26, six days after Maria swept through, without a formal bidding process.

"Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor".

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.

And that the Puerto Rican government "waives any claim against contractor related to delayed completion of work".

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

Two days later, FEMA was also distancing itself from Whitefish saying, it "has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable".

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, has vowed to hold a hearing on the contract.

On Friday, top Democrats from that panel and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter requesting the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general launch an investigation.

Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona said, "Congress needs to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded and whether other, more cost-effective options were available".

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.


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