Puerto Rico’s utility canceled a suspicious contract with a small Montana-based contractor, but it hasn’t stopped the media from trying the whole affair to the Trump administration’s handling of hurricane recovery efforts.
Washington Post reporter Dino Grandoni boldly claimed “[a]s long as much of the island remains dark, Puerto Rico is fundamentally Trump’s problem.”
“How the Trump administration has handled Puerto Rico and Whitefish — seeking credit for the recovery while deflecting blame, even when unwarranted — is potentially a preclude for how the president will handle even bigger external emergencies,” Grandino wrote in WaPo’s daily newsletter Monday.
Grandino’s article comes in the wake of a tireless media effort to tie President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to contractor White Energy and its financiers at HBC Investments.
It turns out Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski are from the same town, Whitefish, Mont., and do know one another. Whitefish’s financial backer is HBC Investment, which was founded by Joe Colonnetta, who donated to Trump in the 2016 election cycle.
Zinke and the White House have denied playing any role in the contract. Supporting their case is, well, the fact that no evidence has come out suggesting the Trump administration played a role in the contract.
I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico. I welcome all investigations into the allegations pic.twitter.com/JQgVFR7Fp6
— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) October 27, 2017
“This is a contract that was determined by the local authorities in Puerto Rico, not something that the federal government played a role in,” echoed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Friday’s press briefing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also played no role in the $300 million deal with Whitefish. FEMA said they had “significant concerns” over the contract, despite the contract claiming FEMA approval.
What has come out, however, is that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) had been in talks with Whitefish before Hurricane Maria hit.
E&E News reported PREPA employee “who had a satellite phone and phone number called Whitefish following the hurricane.”
“PREPA apparently had access to the phone number because the company issued a request for proposals when Hurricane Irma caused minor damage to the island two weeks earlier,” E&E News reported.
Hurricane Maria completely destroyed Puerto Rico’s already dilapidated electric grid, leaving most residents without electricity or running water. PREPA awarded Whitefish a sole contract to rebuild the island’s grid, opting not to activate mutual assistance agreements with other utilities.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello called on PREPA to cancel the contract, which the utility did even though it would delay getting the island’s power back on for another 10 to 12 weeks.
“We are very disappointed in the decision by Governor Rosselló to ask PREPA to cancel the contract which led to PREPA’s announcement this afternoon,” Whitefish said in a statement on its canceled contract.
“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,” the company said.
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