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Puerto Rican Power Authority Awards $300 Million Contract To Tiny Montana Power Company

by Countable | 10.24.17

What’s the story?

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded a $300 million contract to Whitefish Energy, a small business from Montana, raising concerns about the process by which the contract was offered and whether or not Whitefish is qualified to accomplish a project of this scale.

Questions have also been raised about the company’s ties to the GOP through Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, as well as a major Trump donor who is one of the company’s primary financiers.

Why does it matter?

When Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico on September 20 it wiped out the entirety of the island’s power grid, which was already in shambles to begin with.

Whitefish Energy had been in contact with PREPA between the arrival of Hurricane Maria and the prior arrival of Hurricane Irma. After Irma, 60 companies had responded to RFPs to make repairs. As Maria’s threat developed, PREPA reached out to two non-local companies to do the work that might be necessary following a much larger disaster. Only Whitefish was willing to start work without a deposit, PREPA Director Ricardo Ramos told Caribbean Business.

According to the Washington Post, there is a network of mutual aid that exists between utility companies in the continental U.S. that gets activated after disasters like Hurricane Maria, but PREPA’s negotiations with Whitefish sidestepped that network. The Weather Channel also noted that the usual coordination between FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers has not been followed in this case.

However, Whitefish CEO Andrew Techmanski argues that his company’s particular specialty — repairing grid infrastructure in perilous, mountainous areas, was a perfect fit for the needs in Puerto Rico and is not in the usual skill set of U.S. power companies:

"Our company specializes in projects that are difficult to reach, with many in the mountains, projects in which helicopters are used. That experience is an asset to the work that needs to be done in Puerto Rico, where most of the transmission infrastructure is between mountains and there is limited access."

Still, the company’s structure — they had two full-time employees on the day Maria hit the island and rely on temporary, independent contract workers to do most of their work — has caused concerns about whether or not Whitefish will be able to mobilize enough workers for the amount of time necessary to do the contracted work.

Also, the contract, as quoted by the Post, does not reflect wage rates that most Americans are familiar with, though they may be commensurate with the level of risk employees are taking in treacherous conditions:

"Under the contract, the hourly rate was set at $330 for a site supervisor, and at $227.88 for a “journeyman lineman." The cost for subcontractors, which make up the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, is $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319.04 for a lineman. Whitefish also charges nightly accommodation fees of $332 per worker and almost $80 per day for food.”

Questions have also been raised about the company’s ties to the administration and GOP donors. Techmanski acknowledged that after the contract was awarded he reached out to the Interior Secretary’s office to request assistance moving personnel and equipment to the island since they know each other, but the Secretary’s office maintains they have taken no action on behalf of the company.

The Daily Beast uncovered records showing that the primary financier of the company is Joe Colonnetta, who was a significant contributor to the Trump campaign and is a prominent figure in Texas Republican politics.

The House Committee on Natural Resources is looking into the details of the Whitefish contract, but for now PREPA stands by the company’s work.

What do you think?

Does this contract raise concerns for you? Do you think something nefarious is going on or does it just read as a chaotic situation with good intentions but poor communication? Does it make you wonder what the details are of other government contracts and where all the money is going?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

—Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Defense.gov / Creative Commons)

RELATED READING:

On Countable…

Elsewhere…

Workers are dangling from helicopters to fix Puerto Rico's power lines — CNN

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(46)
  • Pam
    10/25/2017
    ···

    Whitefish is a VERY small company with donor ties to the GOP and the power company for Interior Secretary zinke's hometown. Smells like cronyism to me. What happened to submitting bids and proving that enough trained personnel would be ready to get to work? Much of Puerto Rico has already been without power for over a month, so our government is going to give the $300 million contact to a small town power company in Montana? Sounds about right for this swamp of an administration.

    Like (19)
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  • Gilbert
    10/24/2017
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    This has corruption written all over it. Please investigate this and stand up for Puerto Rico.

    Like (17)
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  • Countryfirst
    10/24/2017
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    Wow, more CORRUPT POLITICIANS AND POLITICS..WHAT A SURPRISE!!!👿

    Like (8)
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  • Marc
    10/24/2017
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    This is corruption on a grand scale. I read that this company’s revenues last year were $200000. There’s no way they won’t screw this up and rip off the taxpayers while shafting Puerto Rico. PR will be without power for the foreseeable future because of this.

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  • KansasTamale
    10/25/2017
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    Why is this small company in charge of repairing the entire power grid in Puerto Rico. GUESS??? Whitefish is a VERY small company who donated to the GOP and is located in Interior Secretary Zinke's hometown. Cronyism at its best or worst. Bids should have been submitted to prove that the company had enough educated & trained personnel to get to work? So much of Puerto Rico has already a disaster. This will only make things worse.

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  • SouthernGal
    10/25/2017
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    Trump’s swamp is awarding big $$ contracts to political buddies. This is absurd to think a 2-employee company can handle a job of this scope. Put this back out for bids.

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  • Ticktock
    10/24/2017
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    Sounds like this is a good example of corruption. All the right cogs were greased.

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  • Jerrey
    10/25/2017
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    This contract needs to be closely and publicly monitored for results and any malfeasance. Having worked in PR under good conditions, it can be challenging. Hence additional cost not commensurate with mainland. However all the links that exist hint at cronyism at a minimum and corruption at the worst. Only careful transparent auditing and results in the ground will tell the direction that this is going.

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  • Michael777
    10/25/2017
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    Guys (and gals), this is literally the textbook definition of "crony capitalism." I mean, the fact that the Trump administration is so brazenly committing corruption in broad daylight should be scaring everyone at this point.

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  • Diane
    10/25/2017
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    This needs to be thoroughly investigated! We're government bid processes and contracting norms followed? What demonstrations has this company provided to ensure they are up to the challenges. Also - who wrote the specs on the project bids or requests for proposals? Was this a competitive bid, or a sole source award? Many questions that are too important to be overlooked or not delved into.

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  • Tim
    10/25/2017
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    This needs investigation now. A beyond small Montana firm has no business charging exorbitant fees for contract workers that it would need to source on a massive scale over a company with an already established workforce. This is robery, and incompetence at its worst. "Under the contract, the hourly rate was set at $330 for a site supervisor, and at $227.88 for a “journeyman lineman." The cost for subcontractors, which make up the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, is $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319.04 for a lineman. Whitefish also charges nightly accommodation fees of $332 per worker and almost $80 per day for food.”

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  • Tondria
    10/25/2017
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    So, why wasn’t this company used in Houston or Florida? Why hire a company with only TWO employees? Because money is more important than Americans, especially Americans that do not look the same as you.

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  • Linda
    10/25/2017
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    This raises many questions about how this contract was awarded. Is this company capable of doing this job effectively and as quickly as possible? If they have no workforce of their own and are relying on subcontractors for everything it sounds like a potential for waste of funds and inefficiency in managing the operation. It reeks of a lack of transparency and the appearance of graft and corruption as do so many things in this administration.

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  • Eileen
    10/25/2017
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    This just seems not right! A company with only two employees gets this large a contract. Line work is dangerous and training is required. Where and what quality of workers are they hiring? How did this even come about without the usual protocols including the army of engineers. Sounds pretty fishy!!

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  • Jackie
    10/25/2017
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    This looks very questionable. Inquiry should follow. Certainly don't trust Zinck!!

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  • Judith
    10/25/2017
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    This smells to high heaven! Typical "old boy" politics, and the wages are ridiculous! No wonder we don't trust our government.

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  • R. ben
    10/24/2017
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    Ya know what sounds like corruption? Being the solo power supplier of all of Porto Rico, having a monopoly, and being bankrupt. Allow though I do not know who or quite frankly understand why they would choose a Montana power company, but pick rico needed cheap help that could get the job done, not people who only care about there pockets like the current Porto Rico power company.

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  • Wendy
    10/26/2017
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    This is unacceptable. There’s enough nepotism already. Isn’t the government supposed to take bids for jobs?

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  • Katie
    10/25/2017
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    How is it possible that no one is overseeing the masses of corruption going on with fema and our government. How we as a country handle this event will shape our future we must stand up for our American refugees or our whole country will dissolve into class war

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  • Maureen
    10/25/2017
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    Oh please !!! This corrupt swamp needs to be drained, even before it gets started.

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