SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello asked the board of the island’s Electric Power Authority (AEE) on Sunday to nullify the controversial “sweetheart deal” contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, the firm that had been tapped to help get the island’s electric power grid up and running after the devastating passage of Hurricane Maria.
The AEE’s hiring of Whitefish, a Montana firm, had been severely criticized and questioned when the $300 million price tag for the firm’s services became public knowledge and because the company has only been in business for two years with two fulltime employees.
“There cannot be any kind of distraction that alters the commitment to restore electrical power as soon as possible in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said at a press conference, noting that almost $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far.
“If something illegal was done, once again, the officials involved in that process will feel the full weight of the law, and I will take administrative actions,” Rossello said.
Whitefish, however, said on the weekend in a press release that it began working in Puerto Rico on Oct. 2 on the island’s reconstruction and repair of the electric transmission and distribution lines, hiring more than 325 people for the task.
Rossello also said that his decision to cancel the Whitefish contract was made after asking Comptroller Yesmin Valdivieso to undertake a detailed investigation and audit of the AEE’s procedure to hire Whitefish, an investigation that has not yet concluded.
The commonwealth’s governor also asked US Department of Homeland Security inspector general John Roth to review AEE’s contract with the firm, and Roth gave Puerto Rico Office of Management and Budget chief Jose Marrero 48 hours to audit the contract with the Montana company to ensure that it complies with all state and federal laws.
Rossello went on to say on Sunday that the US Army Corps of Engineers has not played the role it promised in reestablishing electrical service on the island after Maria.
He said at the press conference that when he signed the agreement with the USACE on Sept. 30, the US agency told him that “within 45 days” it would have the island’s electric grid up and running with other contractors and Puerto Rican electricity authorities.
However, the USACE has sent just seven brigades of technicians to reinforce the 404 AEE brigades that have been working all out to get power restored throughout Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm.