Interior secretary: False allegations raised about $300 million Puerto Rico power contract

10/30/2017 04:00 | NaN

Interior secretary: False allegations raised about $300 million Puerto Rico power contract

Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Sunday called for the termination of a $300 million contract to fix Puerto Rico's hurricane-damaged electricity infrastructure awarded to a tiny Montana utility company financed by major donors to President Donald Trump.

Rossello also said he has asked the Office of the Comptroller for a detailed and thorough investigation about the contracting process that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority used to select Whitefish.

"There can be no distraction that alters the commitment to restore the electrical system as quickly as possible", Gov. Ricardo Rossello said on Sunday morning, as he moved to ask for mutual aid from the US mainland to fix his island's decimated power grid.

He said Whitefish brought 350 workers to Puerto Rico in less than a month and it expected to have 500 more by this week.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico", Zinke recently said in a statement linked to a tweet. 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.

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

The contract drew scrutiny because the company had only two employees when it was awarded and is headquartered in the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

They said they completed work on two major transmission lines that crossed the island's mountainous interior, and that PREPA's decision to contact them "only sped up the repairs".

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

The White House and FEMA, the federal disaster management agency, said on Friday they had nothing to do with hiring Whitefish Energy to restore power in the USA commonwealth.

"This is a contract that was determined by local authorities", she said, asserting that the federal government "has nothing to do" with the contract.

The company did not immediately return BBC News' request for comment on the governor's statement.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean, over 70 percent of the USA island territory still has no electricity.

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

Previously Congressional Democrats began asking the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the contract. 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.

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