The company hired to restore Puerto Rico’s power may have corrupt connections to Trump and the Republican Party.
Whitefish Energy, a small for-profit company, is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Whitefish Chief Executive Andy Techmanski and Zinke are known to be familiar with each other, supposedly only because “everybody knows everybody” in the small town.
One of Zinke’s sons “joined a friend who worked a summer job” as a “flagger” at a construction site owned by Techmanski.
The company is conveniently financed by a donor to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party- Federal Election Commission filings showing that the founder of the private equity firm that finances Whitefish Energy donated $20,000 to a PAC that supported Trump during the 2016 election along with more than $30,000 to the RNC.
What’s Happening Now:
A no-bid contract has been awarded to a two-year-old private energy company to restore Puerto Rico's electrical grid. The small company, Whitefish Energy, signed a contract with Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority to repair the island’s compromised electrical infrastructure.
The contract, worth $300 million, is the largest issued so far in the relief effort.
The unusual contract deal with the tiny for-profit company is attracting suspicions from many following concerns about bankrupt Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle to provide relief for 3.4 million residents.
“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” said a former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies, Susan F. Tierney.
“I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”
Parish Braden, a spokesman for the House Committee on Natural Resources also has many questions about the Whitefish contract.
“The size and unknown details of this contract raises numerous questions,” said Braden. “This is one of many things the committee is taking a close look at as it continues to work with the resident commissioner, governor’s office, and oversight board to ensure Puerto Rico’s recovery is robust, effective and sustained.”
The company, which only had two full-time employees the day Maria hit just over a month ago, is drawing suspicion as to why Whitefish Energy was a relevant option for PERPA in restoring the commonwealth’s power.
On Monday, Whitefish said that the company is using linemen, most of them as subcontractors, from across the country working in Puerto Rico. Whitefish’s numbers grow on average 10 to 20 people a day, soon totaling over 300.
According to Aaron C. Davis, an investigative reporter for the Post, Whitefish is charging PREPA hundreds of dollars per hour for their subcontractors' work, an outrageous amount compared to average rates.
A House Committee with oversight of PR bankruptcy says it is concerned about deal. Lawmakers may be more concerned when they price tag: pic.twitter.com/IRga9jsGws
— Aaron C. Davis (@byaaroncdavis) October 24, 2017
Whitefish Energy spokesman Chris Chiames explained that the company’s high rates are due to their worker’s taking “personal risks and business risks working in perilous physical and financial conditions.”
“So the carping by others is unfounded, and we stand by our work and our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.
H/T: The Hill