By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló called for an immediate cancellation of a tiny Montana firm’s $300 million contract to restore power to the storm-hit U.S. territory, his office confirmed on Sunday.
“Following the information that has emerged, and with the goal of protecting public interest, as governor I am asking government and energy authorities to immediately activate the clause to cancel the contract to Whitefish Energy,” Rosselló said in a statement to reporters.
The contract with Puerto Rico’s power utility has come under increased criticism after it was revealed that the terms were obtained without a competitive public bidding process.
Criticism increased, including from U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, after a copy of the contract surfaced online on Thursday night and raised more questions, particularly over language blocking oversight of costs and profits.
Whitefish Energy Holdings officials have insisted that they secured the deal legitimately and would not oppose an audit of the company’s work. A Whitefish spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Several weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, about 75 percent of homes and businesses still lack electricity. Rosselló said he hoped that 30 percent of power would be restored to the island by the end of October.
He said he had reached out to Florida Governor Rick Scott and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to seek help in replacing Whitefish and that they were prepared to assist in restoring power.
“I have given instructions to immediately proceed with the necessary coordination with the states of Florida and New York, in order for brigades and equipment to arrive on the island,” Rosselló’s statement said.
Rosselló said he had requested an investigation into how the contract between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and 2-year-old Whitefish, which has just two full-time employees, was decided so quickly.
The contract and the slow restoration of power on the island have raised questions about the management of PREPA’s response to Maria.
It took more than a week after Maria hit the island for PREPA to complete a damage assessment.
Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board earlier this week said it would appoint an emergency manager to oversee PREPA, but Rosselló resisted that idea.
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski, David Gaffen, Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nick Brown; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)