When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20th, a little-known company called Whitefish Energy had just two full-time employees, according to the Washington Post. Six days later, President Trump announced that FEMA Director Brock Long and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert would be going to the U.S. territory to survey the damage. Whitefish’s squad of subcontractors beat them there.
By September 26th, Whitefish had boots on the ground and was mobilizing three hundred energy workers to assist Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in repairing the island’s shattered electrical grid. But despite the swift response, the choice by PREPA to offer a massive $300 million contract to the young, tiny Montana firm instead of traditional mainland utility partners has turned heads.
Now Congress and other federal entities are curious whether Whitefish really is the best group for the job, or if there is something fishy about PREPA’s unexpected decision. Parish Braden, spokesman for the House Committee on Natural Resources, had this to say:
“The size and unknown details of this contract raises numerous questions. 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.”
Texas and Florida both sought assistance from other utility companies after their recent hurricane landfalls. So why would Puerto Rico go a different way? That’s a question many are asking. “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 Susan F. Tierney, who is a senior Energy Department alumna. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”
For its part, PREPA insists that the decision came down to expediency and the unique challenges of the job. A press release prepared by Whitefish notes that they’ve been on-site since six days after Maria made landfall, and in addition to the 300 contractors who have been working in Puerto Rico so far, Whitefish is sending another 700 from all over the United States to get the power fully back on. While Congress takes a look at the ethics and the numbers, Whitefish and PREPA will no doubt continue stringing up miles and miles of line.
(Via the Washington Post)