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FEMA disavows Puerto Rico power contract awarded to tiny company
November 22 2017, 01:42 | Irvin Gilbert
White House: Federal government, Zinke had 'no role' in electric contract awarded to Montana firm
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he "had absolutely nothing to do" with a $300 million contract awarded to a small company from his hometown to help restore Puerto Rico's power grid.
Puerto Rico's governor is calling for a controversial contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings to be terminated immediately.
"There can not be any distraction that alters the commitment of raising the electric system as quickly as possible", Rossello said.
Thirty-nine days after Hurricane Maria hit the territory, Rossello said that he would request assistance from Florida and NY under mutual aid arrangements that utilities traditionally activate to help other states during an emergency.
On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested documents related to the contract from Whitefish.
Critics have queried why Puerto Rican authorities did not seek aid from other public utility companies - as is customary during disasters.
Puerto Rico is still in shambles 39 days after category 4 Hurricane Maria swept through on September 20.
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.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Friday that the federal government had nothing to do with the decision to award a small Montana company with a contract to fix Puerto Rico's electrical grid.
FEMA says its initial review raises significant concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted prices are reasonable. "This was something exclusively determined by the Puerto Rican government". FEMA on Friday said that it had not approved the Whitefish Energy agreement.
The US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Caribbean island, is also scrutinising the 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.
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".