By Hannah Bouchard
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 16, the company Whitefish Energy Holdings made a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to help restore their destroyed power grid. As of now, only 30 percent of Puerto Rican residents have electricity. The contract states, “The Contractor shall provide labor, supervision tools, and equipment necessary to perform transmission and distribution power grid reconstruction.”
The contract was largely controversial for a number of reasons. The company is found in Whitefish, Montana, which is a small town with less than 8,000 residents. The company is only two years old and only consisted of two full-time employers the day the hurricane struck the island. The actual charge for Whitefish’s services was not significantly less than competitors and, in fact, some of the prices they placed on paying their employees and the other reparation expenses were considerably higher than average.
The head of PREPA, Ricardo Ramos, stated that Whitefish Energy Holdings was the first company “available to arrive and they were the ones that first accepted terms and conditions for PREPA,” according to the Washington Post.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has been allocating relief funds to American grounds hit by Hurricane Harvey, recent wildfires and now Hurricane Maria, has stated that the agency never approved of this contract and criticized its language and price list.
On Sunday, October 29, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo A. Rosselló, cancelled the contract, believing that the controversy of the contract was distracting from the relief efforts.
In an attempt to uncover how this contract came to fruition at all, considering the lack of experience of the company and the suspicious price tag, lines have been drawn connecting President Trump’s United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski. The two came from the same small Montana town, and Zinke’s son worked for the company last summer. Another tie to the Trump Administration is that, according to CNN, “An investment firm that owns a major stake in the company is run by a donor to Trump’s presidential campaign.” This investment firm, HBC Investments, founded by Joe Colonnetta, who was reported to have donated tens of thousands to Trump’s general election campaign, according to The Daily Beast.
The FBI is currently investigating how Whitefish Energy Holdings obtained this contract.