The company rebuilding Puerto Rico is in hot water over one tweet

The two-person utility company won a controversial $300 million contract — then feuded with San Juan's mayor

Published October 26, 2017 1:41PM (EDT)

Aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP/Carlos Giusti)
Aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico (AP/Carlos Giusti)

Whitefish Energy, the two-person company backed by a donor to President Donald Trump that also has close ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has apologized to the people of Puerto Rico after threatening that the company would pull its employees out of recovery efforts in a tweet to the mayor of San Juan.

As soon as Whitefish was awarded a controversial $300 million contract by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to restore the island's power grid that was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration was heavily criticized for using such a tiny company.

After further scrutiny, it was reported that Zinke has strong ties to Whitefish Energy Chief Executive Andy Techmanski. It was also reported that HBC Investments, which finances Whitefish, was founded by Joe Colonnetta, a Trump donor, who also serves as the firm's general partner.

When all of that was combined with the news that the utility company, because it only has two-full time employees, hired roughly 280 workers as subcontractors — which Whitefish receives a gratuity for — San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz raised her concerns.

"You would think I am the only one in the world that has commented on this. What is it about women having an opinion that irritates some?" Cruz tweeted about Whitefish's response to her concerns, which it said were "misplaced."

In a tweet that followed, she wrote, "If @WhitefishEngergy feels that asking for transparency is ”misplaced”, what are they afraid we will find."  

The utility company then responded and said, "We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?"

On Thursday, the company apologized to the mayor and to the people of Puerto Rico.

"Mayor Cruz and everyone in Puerto Rico — on behalf of our employees, we would like to apologize for our comments earlier today, which did not represent who we are and how important this work is to help Puerto Rico's recovery," the company said in a statement on Twitter.

The statement continued, "We have a strong team on the ground, we are working hard and making good progress. Our goal is to continue to do all we can to help everyone in Puerto Rico in this time of need."

But the controversy isn't quite over. The House Oversight Committee, in a bipartisan request, "asked Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to provide all documents or communications 'relating to any steps taken to prepare Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as logistical challenges, distribution of commodities, or power restoration following the storm,'" as Salon previously reported.

The rates of Whitefish's subcontractors have also been called into question. It costs $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319 for a linemen.  

By Charlie May

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