White House denies role in Whitefish contract

Puerto Rico's Frantic Search for Someone to Turn on the Lights

In a statement, FEMA said it was not involved in the decision, and warned that it might not reimburse the authority, known as PREPA, if the contract does not abide by federal requirements.

The company is headquartered in the town of Whitefish, the hometown of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Ramos said the company contacted Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority two days before the storm hit, at a time when it was becoming clear the hurricane could cause massive damage.

Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona said, "Congress needs to understand why the Whitefish contract was awarded and whether other, more cost-effective options were available".

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Friday that the federal government had nothing to do with the decision to award a small Montana company with a contract to fix Puerto Rico's electrical grid.

Whitefish said in a statement it was "disappointed" in the decision, adding that it will "only delay what the people of Puerto Rico want and deserve - to have the power restored quickly in the same manner their fellow citizens on the mainland experience after a natural disaster".

Whitefish and the island's public utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, struck an agreement on September 26, six days after Maria swept through, without a formal bidding process.

This story is developing and will be updated. But questions arose soon after news broke on October 19 that the Montana-based company was chosen over bigger and better known companies vying for the job. FEMA on Friday said that it had not approved the Whitefish Energy agreement.

See the full text of the contract here.

The Associated Press obtained Whitefish's contract, which called for payments of $20,277 an hour for a heavy lift Chinook helicopter, $650 an hour for a large crane truck, $322 an hour for a foreman of a power line crew, $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman and $286 an hour for a mechanic. Chiames, the Whitefish spokesman, has said that Colonnetta's political donations were "irrelevant" and that the company would co-operate with any federal authorities.

The specific terms of the contract also raised eyebrows, from the exorbitant hourly rates charged by Whitefish to its barring of a government audit.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested documents related to the contract from Whitefish.

"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", Rosselló said in an usual Sunday morning news conference at La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion.

But the industry plan may conflict with the goals of the federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico's troubled finances. There will be a separate audit by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General's Office.

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