Puerto Rico is working to cancel Whitefish contract
Puerto Rico’s power authority is working to cancel a controversial contract it awarded to a small Montana-based utility company.
Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, says he is “asking for a resolution” that would allow for the cancellation of the contract with Whitefish Energy.
The $300 million deal with the two-year-old company has drawn widespread scrutiny. Whitefish, which was tasked with helping to restore power to parts of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, had few employees before Hurricane Maria hit.
Ramos said during a Sunday press conference that the contract is “not canceled as of yet,” adding that it requires 30 days of prior notice. He said he will need to talk to the firm.
“The plan is not to demobilize them either, we will let them finish what they have started,” Ramos said.
Whitefish said in a separate statement that it’s “disappointed” in the decision to terminate their agreement.
“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 statement reads. “We only wish the best for the great people of Puerto Rico.”
The contract with PREPA marked the largest contract to be awarded since recovery efforts began more than a month ago.
Whitefish is also based in the small hometown of U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, which has raised questions. Zinke has said he had nothing to do with the contract.
A White House spokesman told CNN the decision to give the contract to Whitefish was made exclusively by PREPA.
“The White House is not aware of any federal involvement in the selection,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said.
Whitefish did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
The decision to cancel the deal Sunday came hours after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló publicly called on PREPA to do so.
He said questions raised around the contract are “interfering with everything” and the distractions are not helping Puerto Rico rebuild.
To help ensure transparency going forward, Rosselló said that he will appoint a finance official to PREPA who will oversee the contracting process. He also asked Puerto Rico’s Office of the Comptroller to conduct a review of how the emergency contract was awarded.
In the meantime, Rosselló said his team is working with the governors of Florida and New York to bring energy workers from those states to help Puerto Rico as quickly as possible.
The controversy surrounding the Whitefish contract has spurred a probe by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who will also be looking at how the firm was selected.
Last week, Rosselló indicated he would be willing to move forward with the Whitefish contract if there was no evidence of misconduct. He also asked the inspector general to complete the review by Monday.
“If there is no wrongdoing, if it has been done correctly then we will push forward,” Rosselló told CNN at the time. “If there is wrongdoing in this process or any process there will be hell to pay.”
Puerto Rico’s already frail power infrastructure was all but destroyed after Maria tore through the island. As of Sunday, only about 30% of Puerto Rico’s power generators were back online, according to PREPA data.
Whitefish workers first arrived on the island on October 2.
The company said Sunday that the contract “only sped up the repairs, and if it were not for that action, crews would just now be getting to the island to begin the process of rebuilding the system and restoring power.”
According to the firm, its efforts have restored power hospitals, businesses and residents of the north-central town of Manatí, Puerto Rico. It’s currently working to bring power to another 500,000 people in San Juan.
“We will certainly finish any work that PREPA wants us to complete and stand by our commitments,” the company said.
–CNN’s Donna Borak, Rene Marsh and Greg Wallace contributed to this report.
Jackie Wattles and Marilia Brocchetto