In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which left millions in Puerto Rico without electricity, food supplies, and clean water, the government of Puerto Rico publicly begged the United States for more help. The greatest need was to restore the power grid, which was nearly completely destroyed.
Prior the damage from Hurricane Maria, the high winds from Hurricane Irma, which hit the island just before, had already caused problems in Puerto Rico that resulted in over one million people losing electrical power. Then, when Hurricane Maria hit, over 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s population of approximately 3.5 million people were without electrical power. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was in terrible condition due to neglect. This island territory of the United States was bankrupt and without sufficient funds to make the necessary repairs and upgrades on the electrical grid for decades.
Part the United States relief efforts included awarding a single-bid $300 million contract to a tiny company from Montana. This company, called Whitefish Energy, was only a few years old, had very few employees, and no significant experience in power grid work. There was alleged corruption in how it obtained the contract to do the work. Salon reported on the details uncovered about the corruption, which included that the company is from the hometown of the United States Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Zinke denied the allegations that he had some influence over the contract award. Nevertheless, the direct connection to a small town in Montana where he is from is very suspicious. Moreover, the contract was not put out for competitive bid. It was awarded on the single bid made by the Whitefish Energy Company.
The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, called the contract into question, even though there were linemen workers that Whitefish hired were already working on power restoration in the city. Mayor Cruz got into a Twitter feud with the POTUS and the CEO of Whitefish Energy, Andrew Techmanski. Mayor Cruz took her concerns to the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosell. This prompted Governor Rosell to call for the investigation of the contract terms.
After the investigation, Governor Rosell called for the cancellation of the contract due to the “massive inconsistencies” it contained including the blatantly false claim that the contract was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA publicly stated that it made no such approval of the Whitefish contract.
The Daily Beast reported that one of the main investors in Whitefish donated many tens of thousands of dollars to the GOP party.
Even though Puerto Rico desperately needs help restoring its power grid, this incidence of obvious and outrageous corruption caused Governor Rosell to instruct the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to cancel the contract with Whitefish.