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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

A $300 million contract to restore electricity across storm-ravaged Puerto Rico has been given to a Montana-based company that has never handled a project of this magnitude and has existed for just two years. The Washington Post reports that Whitefish Energy is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. According to the Daily Beast, the company “is primarily financed by a private-equity firm founded and run” by Joe Colonnetta, a big-money donor to the Trump campaign. Zinke admits knowing Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski, but dismissively chalks it up to being from a small town where “everybody knows everybody.”

The selection of such an inexperienced firm—Whitefish had just two employees when Hurricane Maria hit, and its previous biggest federal contract was $1.3 million for 4.8 miles of road in Arizona—seems particularly odd given the more obvious choices available. The Post indicates that the state-backed power authority Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, has “opted to hire Whitefish rather than activate the ‘mutual aid’ arrangements it has with other utilities” which have quickly restored power other major U.S. areas. In fact, “the Puerto Rican utility has not replied to offers of assistance from mutual-aid partners, according to the American Public Power Association, which coordinates such operations.”

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney, who previously held a senior role in the U.S. Energy Department, told the Post. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

“The size and unknown details of this contract raises numerous questions,” Parish Braden, a flack for the House Committee on Natural Resources, told the outlet. “This is one of many things the committee is taking a close look at as it continues to work with the resident commissioner, governor’s office, and oversight board to ensure Puerto Rico’s recovery is robust, effective and sustained.”

Despite the island’s debt problems, which Trump has repeatedly referenced amid criticism of his administration’s slow recovery response, pay rates for Whitefish employees are sky-high. Site supervisors will make $330 an hour, and subcontractors will pull in $462 per hour. According to the Post, “Whitefish also charges nightly accommodation fees of $332 per worker and almost $80 per day for food.”

Whitefish CEO Techmanski believes the paychecks may be rolling in for some time, calling the Puerto Rican situation “among the worst that I have ever seen,” per the Post. “It will take months, if not years, to repair the entire grid to full operational status.

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

 

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6 responses to “Is White House Carving Up Puerto Rico For GOP Cronies?”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    What happened to congressional oversight? Where are the inspector general and contracting officer? Why was a sole source contract given to an inexperienced company with ties to the Trump administration instead of issuing a RFP? I understand the need for expediency, but that does not excuse the fact that a major contract was given to an unqualified contractor, when dozens of experienced power companies are available to do the job, including some with vast hurricane experience. This is a blatant example of fraud, and nobody seems to care, except for the reputable Washington Post. Lock the crooks up!

    • FireBaron says:

      C’mon, Dom. You and I both know that “Congressional Oversight” only happens when there is a Democrat occupying the Oval Office. If the President is a member (however tenuous) of the GOP, he is given Carte Blanche for whatever he wants to do, especially when it comes to making contributors richer.

    • 1standlastword says:

      Disaster Capitalism to the rescue. It’s like Iraq with Halliburton and KBR all over again under a different Republican administration. Same ole story same ole sons and dance

      • Dominick Vila says:

        I agree. What we are seeing is a sequel to the deregulation and fraudulent activities that led to the near collapse of our economy in 2007-08. The worst part is that many among us either did not learn that lesson, or are complicit in the malfeasance that took place in those days.

  2. MJ Hoop says:

    The pay rates make me gasp. Good grief!!!! No, bad grief on PR when the payroll checks come due. Something smells fishier than the swamp…….

  3. The insatiable thirst of the GOP for money creates incentives to take advantage of every opportunity, whether its setting up people to be incarcerated in Prisons-for-Profit, charging students in grade school to get a basic education in Creationism. or always arriving at a disaster to offer services to make money for Big Business or their affiliates. Like flies waiting for a carcass, the GOP can always be counted on to show up and clean up financially. The “Jack Benny” character would be dumbfounded that he never was as creative in amassing money to the tune the GOP does.

    Like roaches scurrying about for leftovers on a kitchen floor, the GOP moves about quickly to take advantage of the misfortune and hard luck of others.

    I’m sure we’re all numbed by now by the GOP’s mercenary appetite.

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