Puerto Rico Pulls Plug on Tiny Firm’s $300M Repair Contract

(CN) – The head of Puerto Rico’s power authority on Sunday blamed U.S. media for creating a controversy that led to his cancellation of the $300 million contract awarded to a small Montana company hired to repair Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure.

Ricardo Ramos, CEO of PREPA, Puerto Rico’s power authority, on Sunday said he accepted Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s recommendation and would cancel the territory’s $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy, a company that had only two full-time employees when it was hired to rebuild damage from Hurricane Maria.

In a statement, Whitefish Energy said it was “extremely disappointed” by Rossello’s request to cancel the contract.

“The decision will only delay what the people of Puerto Rico want and deserve – to have the power restored quickly in the same manner their fellow citizens on the mainland experience after a natural disaster,” the company said. “We will certainly finish any work … and stand by our commitments knowing that we made an important contribution to the restoration of the power grid since our arrival on the island on Oct. 2.”

In a press conference, Ramos said “there was no need for cancellation of the contract” and that when Whitefish Energy came to the island to begin work “everyone was cheering.”

He said news in the “tabloids” created a controversy that led to Rossello’s recommendation to cancel the contract. The controversy included how a small startup firm was able to land a lucrative $300 million contract without having to bid for it, and the fact that U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is from the same small Montana town.

Whitefish Energy said it had brought in 350 workers, 400 trucks, cranes and elevators and five helicopters to begin work to repair the electrical grid. The company said it has completed “significant work” on two major transmission lines in remote area and helped restore power to Manati, Puerto Rico.

“We only wish the best for the great people of Puerto Rico,” the company said in its statement. “We are very proud of our contributions to the island’s recovery and proud of the tremendous work that our team has done under very challenging conditions.”

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, and President Donald Trump traveled there after Hurricane Maria struck. However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the U.S. government had no involvement in awarding the contract to Whitefish Energy.

“The federal government has nothing to do with this contract or the process,” Sanders said. “This was something solely determined by the Puerto Rican government. And, as I said, we’ll look forward to the audit to see if there are any other issues beyond that.”


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