The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, has demanded that the territory’s power company, Ricardo Ramos, terminate a deal with Whitefish Energy Holdings over the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s power grid.
Hurricane Maria struck the island with great force on September 20, essentially wiping out the grid. About 30% of it has now been rebuilt. Bringing the remaining 70% back on line will require weeks more work: and the scrapping of the $300 million contract with Whitefish may delay the process.
Whitefish, an operation based in Whitefish, Montana, was founded only two years ago, by Andy Techmanski. As of the day the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, Whitefish had only two full time employees. It has been subcontracting for employees in Puerto Rico.
So, why did the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the entity run by Ramos, ever offer Whitefish a no-bid contract worth $300 million? The question puzzles many. The PREPA has “mutual aid” agreements with other U.S. utilities, precisely designed to allow utilities to call upon one another for help after a natural disaster strikes. PREPA made its deal with Whitefish rather than invoke those agreements.
Why? One potential clue: the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, calls Whitefish, MT home, and he knows Techmanski personally.
Left Wing View
Emily Atkin, writing in The New Republic, expressed the view of much of the left, the contract at issue is “deeply flawed,” and the federal government should both investigate how it came about and “do something about it.”
In an article posted on TNR’s website on Friday, October 27, Ms. Atkin called the deal worse than flawed, “deeply shady.”
On Sunday, after word was out that the contract had been cancelled; Colin Wilhelm wrote to much the sa me effect in Politico.
Wilkelm also passed along a tidbit from “a source with knowledge of the situation” within Puerto Rico’s government: that Rossello spent days “resisting any change to the contract” before belatedly agreeing to the necessity of a cancellation.
There is a lot of social media comment on the subject. Some of it focuses on quotidian details. Pablo Venes, a writer with The Daily Beast, tweets that “after the cancellation of the contract, #PREPA will have to pay boarding and travel fees to the 300 employees @WhitefishEnergy subcontracted.” That claim elicited some skepticism, with “Shady Boots” replying, “No way they have 300 employees in PR.”
But for the most part the left is looking askance at contracting, which it has collectively decided to portray as a paradigm of contractor profiteering.
Right Wing View
Whitefish Energy issued a statement Sunday evening. It congratulated itself on the speed with which it mobilized to assist Puerto Rico with the crisis, saying that it was “on track to have more than 500 linemen on the island by this week if allowed to continue.”
One point of view expressed on social media, most often by those somewhat right of center, is that the real problem with repairs isn’t Whitefish. It’s PREPA itself. Geraldo Rivera, of Fox News, tweeted, “Don’t blame 70% Puerto Rico no power on @realDonaldTrump or even hurricanes – blame corrupt PREPA. It stole $ meant for maintenance & upgrades.”
Carmen Yulin Cruz, likewise, tweets, “The Governor has admitted by this that he doesn’t trust Ricardo Ramos or PREPA. Again he should be fired.”
Streiff, at RedState, gives a more elaborate explanation of why the left’s focus on Whitefish and the contract is misdirection. The real story here, he writes, is Puerto Rico’s insolvency. That limited its choices as to contractors.
“The fact that this was a no-bid contract was driven by the fact that no one was interested in working with PREPA and then not getting paid. Wanting to get paid really isn’t a scandal in the private sector, and wanting to work of clients who might be able to pay you is considered to be a manifestly good thing,” Streiff writes.
That may explain why it was a no-bid deal to an obscure firm. But it doesn’t explain why it has taken so long for Puerto Rico to avail itself of mutual aid arrangements in place.