Puerto Rico says it's scrapping $300M Whitefish contract

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Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello demanded that the island's power authority cancel its controversial $300 million contract with a little-known Montana firm to restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The Trump administration said Friday it had no involvement in the decision to award Whitefish the contract to help restore Puerto Rico's power grid.

"There can not be any distraction that alters the commitment of raising the electric system as quickly as possible", Rossello said.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said the board of the island's power company should rescind the $300 million pact with Whitefish Energy Holdings, an upstart fix company in Montana, a western USA state, even though just days ago he defended the contract.

Ramos said contract terms with Whitefish meant that the cancellation would become effective 30 days from notice and, signaling potential intricacies, explained that there were "a lot of logistics involved". Whitefish has said the company has expertise in mountainous areas, and arrived in Puerto Rico before other companies. "This was something exclusively determined by the Puerto Rican government".

A report in The Washington Post, noting that the company is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, set off a storm of criticism this week and triggered calls for inquiries by Congress. The company only had two employees the day Hurricane Maria hit.

"They're doing an excellent job", he said.

Whitefish and PREPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. FEMA on Friday said that it had not approved the Whitefish Energy agreement.

The White House and FEMA, the federal disaster management agency, said on Friday they had nothing to do with hiring Whitefish Energy to restore power in the USA commonwealth.

Earlier in the week, the department also released a statement denying Zinke played a role and saying he only knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanskis "because they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone".

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.

The US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Caribbean island, is also scrutinising the contract.

The latest updates from the Puerto Rican government show that nearly 70 percent of the island remains without power; the storm made landfall on the island on September 20.

A federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico's finances announced this week that retired Air Force Col. Noel Zamot will be in charge of power reconstruction efforts.

Rossello had previously requested the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security inspect the deal.

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