Puerto Rico Scraps $300M Contract to Small US Firm

Whitefish Energy only had two employees when Hurricane Maria hit the island
By Josh Rosenblatt,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2017 1:34 PM CDT
Updated Oct 29, 2017 3:40 PM CDT
Puerto Rico Governor Wants Whitefish Contract Cancelled
In this Oct. 15 file photo, Whitefish Energy Holdings workers restore power lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico.   (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

A lucrative but controversial contract awarded to a tiny US company to restore power to Puerto Rico is no more. Puerto Rico pulled the plug on the $300 million deal Sunday, hours after Gov. Ricardo Rossello called for the move, reports the Washington Post. The contract between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Whitefish Energy has been a continual source of controversy for the commonwealth, which is still struggling to restore electricity to 80% of its residents more than a month after Hurricane Maria. When the hurricane hit, the 2-year-old Whitefish only had two employees, raising questions as to why it was picked by PREPA over other, more-established companies. The company's pay scales are also much higher than is common, and a clause in the contract prohibited oversight or review by FEMA.

At the same time, questions have been raised about the possible involvement of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the deal. Whitefish, Mont., is Zinke's hometown and one of his sons worked for Whitefish Energy last summer. Zinke, however, denied any involvement with the negotiations, calling any allegations to the contrary "baseless," Politico reports. The White House has also denied any involvement, pointing out that the contract was determined by PREPA and that the federal government had no role. However, several congressional committees were investigating the agreement. One of Whitefish's primary financial backers is Joe Colonnetta, who was a big financial contributor to President Trump's 2016 campaign. (More Hurricane Maria stories.)

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