FEMA Has ‘Significant Concerns’ About A $300 Million Contract To Rebuild Puerto Rico

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it had “significant concerns” over a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico, adding it played no role in the politically-contentious deal.

The deal between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old Montana-based company, has already attracted scrutiny from Congress and Puerto Rican officials.

FEMA wants the public to know it played no part in PREPA’s awarding of the $300 million contract, according to a statement released Friday.

The agency also laid out it’s “significant concerns” about how PREPA awarded the contract to Whitefish, a company that until recently only had two employees. FEMA is in talks with PREPA to obtain more information on the contract and how it was awarded.

PREPA recently signed a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy to reconstruct the island’s power infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in September, laying waste to the island’s infrastructure. Pretty much all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents were left without electricity and running water.

Three weeks after Maria hit, most Puerto Ricans are still without electricity.

PREPA’s contract gained attention after The Washington Post highlighted its peculiarities, including how Puerto Rican utility chose to contract with a small company rather than activate mutual aid agreements with other utilities.

Whitefish has grown its staff, WaPo reported, now boasting “280 workers in the territory, using linemen from across the country, most of them as subcontractors, and that the number grows on average from 10 to 20 people a day.”

Some news outlets have tried to tie Whitefish and its financial backers to the Trump administration, but previous reports indicate PREPA had tapped the company for a smaller rebuilding project in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

A PREPA employee “who had a satellite phone and phone number called Whitefish following the hurricane,” E&E News reported. “PREPA apparently had access to the phone number because the company issued a request for proposals when Hurricane Irma caused minor damage to the island two weeks earlier.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is heading the effort to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid. The Corps plans on spending more than $400 million to rebuild the entire electric grid, which will get plumbing and drinking water systems back online.

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