Puerto Rico wants to cancel its controversial $300 million Whitefish contract

The contract was heavily criticized for going to a company that seemed under qualified to handle the job

By Matthew Rozsa

Published October 30, 2017 1:28PM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A controversial $300 million contract signed between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and a small, politically well-connected Montana energy company is en route to being cancelled.

"As a result of the information that has been revealed and the need to protect the public interest, as governor I am asking the power authority to cancel the Whitefish contract immediately," Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló told reporters at a news conference according to The Washington Post.

In a statement responding to the governor's decision, Whitefish Energy said that it was "very disappointed" and defended its own performance. "The original decision by PREPA to have Whitefish Energy come to the Puerto Rico 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," Whitefish Energy said in its statement.

The contract to Whitefish Energy was controversial for a number of reasons. Despite Puerto Rico's entire island being in dire need of major repairs, Whitefish Energy had only been in existence for two years. The company only had two full-time employees on the day that Hurricane Maria struck the island and had no experience on any projects as vast in scale and scope as the repairs required in Puerto Rico.

Also raising concerns was the fact that Whitefish, Montana, is the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose son worked a summer job at a construction site owned by Whitefish Energy Chief Executive Andy Techmanski. Zinke had to grapple with a previous ethics scandal earlier in his career, when he was accused of travel fraud during his time as a Navy SEAL.

Last week the House Oversight Committee revealed that it had sent a documents request to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to find out more about the controversial deal.

"I think we don't know enough yet to know about an ethics violation, but the administration should be worried about the optics of this," Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Salon after the House Oversight Committee's request. "Because there are certainly quite a few people asking questions about the nature of the contract, which really isn't what the administration would want to be seeing."

It is quite likely that, even when the Whitefish contract is officially cancelled, tough questions will still be asked about why Puerto Rico made such a seemingly bizarre choice to meet its growing infrastructure needs.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Donald Trump Puerto Rico Ryan Zinke Whitefish Contract