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Tiny Montana Firm Restores Puerto Rico's Power

Tiny Montana Firm Restores Puerto Rico's Power

According to the Washington Post, Whitefish Energy only had two full-time employees at the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, leaving many people questioning why this company was chosen to restore power to an island with approximately 3.4 million residents.

Whitefish Energy, a two-year old electrical utility firm, announced last week it secured a $300 million contract from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to fix and reconstruct parts of the island's electrical infrastructure.

The deal surpassed a six-month contract worth $240 million to Fluor Corp. from the Army Corps of Engineers to help bring power back to the island and a $35.1 million contract to Weston Solutions to provide two generators for temporary power to the city of San Juan.

Some maintain portions of Puerto Rico could be powerless for two years. Such quick growth is typical among utility firms when they are awarded large contracts.

Whitefish said it is sending hundreds of workers, mostly subcontractors, to Puerto Rico and is providing hotel rooms and its own materials.

Others have questioned why PREPA did not choose a larger, more established utility.

"The first thing you hear about is there's tons of food and water that (Puerto Ricans) don't have access to, that they can't make it throughout the island because there's no gasoline", she said, adding that the Jones Act, a 1920's law, limits and controls imports and has impeded the delivery of relief to the island from worldwide supporters. The other company was requiring a $25 million down payment, given the power authority's troubled finances.




But some on Capitol Hill are concerned that Whitefish may have stood out for another reason.

According to the Daily Beast, Colonnetta was not the only US politician behind Whitefish Energy Holdings, with the company's chief executive officer Andy Techmanski also a known ally of the Trump administration and friend of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke is at least somewhat acquainted with Whitefish's CEO, though Zinke's office told the Post that's due to Whitefish being a place where "everybody knows everybody".

The paper wrote that one of Zinke's sons "worked a summer job" at at a Techmanski construction site.

"Neither the secretary nor anyone in his office have taken any meetings or action on behalf of this company", the department said in a statement. The House Committee on Natural Resources is reportedly examining Whitefish's role in Puerto Rico.

Techmanski, who has described the firm as specializing in "difficult and mountainous terrain projects", has downplayed any ties to the administration.

"It feels as if the United States is saying, we can't help you, we're not going to let anyone else help you", said Yeampierre.

But as multiple publications have noted, the type of work Whitefish will be doing is usually handled through "mutual aid" agreements with other utilities, rather than by for-profit companies, especially those of Whitefish's exceptionally small size. PREPA has struggled with heavy management turnover and a $9 billion debt load, which landed it in bankruptcy in July.


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