By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A small Montana company that landed and lost a $300 million contract to restore Puerto Rico’s hurricane-shattered electric grid has sued a subcontractor for allegedly interfering with tens of millions of dollars in payments.
Whitefish Energy Holdings claims the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority withheld the money at the request of Indiana-based Arc American Inc.
The northwest Montana company asked U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in a lawsuit filed this week to force Arc to withdraw the request so Whitefish can be paid.
Whitefish’s contract expired Thursday after accusations of overcharging that also contributed to the resignation of the power authority’s director.
Representatives of Whitefish did not immediately answer questions about the status of its activities on the island.
Arc attorney Scott Hagel declined comment.
In a Nov. 16 letter to the power authority, Arc President Ben Wilson said Whitefish had failed to pay it $8.7 million for work done by the subcontractor in Puerto Rico. Wilson asked for the authority to pay Arc directly.
Whitefish first came under scrutiny because it’s based in the same small Montana town — also named Whitefish — as U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Its contract was cancelled by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had “significant concerns” about the deal. Hearings before Congress revealed that the power authority ignored advice from its own lawyers before signing the contract with Whitefish, which had just two employees when Hurricane Maria hit.
Many people in Puerto Rico remain without power more than two months after Category 4 Maria devastated the island, killing at least 55 people and causing damage estimated at up to $95 billion.
Whitefish has defended its work as effective in restoring power to large areas where lines, poles and other infrastructure suffered heavy damage that required major reconstruction of transmission towers.
As of Wednesday, power had been restored to just over 61 percent of the island, the company said.
Whitefish was one of only two companies that offered immediate services after Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, according to the power authority’s former director, Ricardo Ramos, who resigned Nov. 17.
The other company required a guaranteed payment of $25 million — money that Ramos said the bankrupt utility with a $9 billion debt load did not have.