Facing scrutiny, Puerto Rico to cancel plum power restoration contract

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Puerto Rico's governor called for the island's utility to cancel a $300 million power restoration contract with a small Montana-based company on Sunday.

The company has only two full-time employees, and many were surprised when it received the big contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico's electrical grid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Rossello said he has requested that crews from NY and Florida come help restore power in Puerto Rico as he criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not meeting its goals.

FEMA said in a statement Friday that any language in the contract saying the agency approved the deal with Whitefish Energy Holdings is inaccurate.

Earlier on Sunday, Puerto Rico's Governor, Ricardo Rosselló had called for the contract with Whitefish to be canceled, and PREPA's Ramos said he had accepted the governor's recommendation. The island awarded the contract without a normal public bidding process that would have allowed other companies to compete for the work. Whitefish has said the company has expertise in mountainous areas, and arrived in Puerto Rico before other companies. That person would coordinate the federal government, PREPA and contractors - and perhaps get all the relevant entities rowing in the same direction and at the same speed. Whitefish is based in the Montana town of the same name, which also is the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He went on to become CEO of Whitefish two years ago.

Separately, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said they would travel to the island on Saturday to observe recovery efforts.

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Whitefish and the island's public utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, struck an agreement on September 26, six days after Maria swept through, without a formal bidding process.

The company did not immediately return BBC News' request for comment on the governor's statement.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Friday that the federal government had nothing to do with the decision to award a small Montana company with a contract to fix Puerto Rico's electrical grid. "This was a state and local decision made by the Puerto Rican authorities and not the federal government", Sanders said.

A Whitefish contract obtained by The Associated Press found that the deal included $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 White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) distanced themselves from the deal last week.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested documents related to the contract from Whitefish. She said she also wants the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, to investigate, adding to the list of possible investigations.