Puerto Rico utility authority moves to cancel controversial Whitefish power deal after governor's criticisms
Whitefish deal came under criticism from governor.
— -- The Puerto Rico Energy Authority moved today to cancel its controversial $300 million contract with a small Montana company to rebuild the island's electrical grid.
The energy authority executive director Ricardo Ramos announced the decision in a press conference, hours after Puerto Rico's governor called for the contract with Whitefish Energy to be cancelled.
The executive director said he will make a written request to PREPA's Governing Board asking to end the contract, which requires 30-day notice for cancellation.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello's request for the contract to be scrapped came after scrutiny and questions over the awarding of a major and crucial rebuilding project to the small company whose home base is in the Montana hometown of U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
"There can be no distraction that alters the commitment to repair the power grid as quickly as possible," Rossello said in a statement Sunday. "The decision announced today is intended to reaffirm our commitment to transparency in the contracting process in the government of Puerto Rico and to achieve the highest degree of efficiency possible in the restoration of the power grid of our island, in the shortest amount of time possible."
But Ramos assured that the decision to part ways with Whitefish was not over anything illegal in the contracting process.
Only 29.7 percent of Puerto Rico electric customers now have power, more than five weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20, according to statistics from the governor's office.
Whitefish Energy Holdings is headquartered in Whitefish, Montana, which has a population of about 7,200. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski. Zinke's son also had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site.
"I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico," said Zinke in a recent statement linked to a tweet. "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless."
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said its initial review of the contract raised significant concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the agreed-upon cost was reasonable. The 2-year-old company had just two full-time employees when Maria hit Sept. 20. It has since hired more than 300 workers.
Rossello earlier today tweeted his call for the island's utility to cancel the deal.
The Puerto Rican governor has also asked the U.S. territory's comptroller for "a detailed and in-depth investigation into the recruitment process" that led the electric utility to award Whitefish the contract.
The Trump administration has sought to distance itself from the agreement.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters that Zinke assured the president that he was not involved in the deal and that it was what she described as "a state and local decision made by the Puerto Rican authorities and not the federal government."
"Our rates are competitive and our work is top rate," Whitefish spokesperson Chris Chiames told ABC News last week. He said the company is uniquely qualified to tackle the situation in Puerto Rico due to the CEO's experience in "rugged and remote terrain."
ABC News' Joshua Hoyos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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