- Sep 26, 2011
One guy to hold the ladder. The other guy to screw in the bulb
also atA small Montana company located in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown has signed a $300 million contract to help get the power back on in Puerto Rico, The Washington Post reported.
Whitefish Energy had only two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, according to the Post. The company signed the contract — the largest yet issued to help restore Puerto Rico — with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to fix the island's electrical infrastructure.
The company now has 280 workers on the island, the Post reported, a majority of whom are subcontractors.
A former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies said it was "odd" that Whitefish would be chosen.
“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 said.
“I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”
Whitefish happened to be the first firm "available to arrive and they were the ones that first accepted terms and conditions for PREPA," Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of PREPA, the island's power authority, told reporters.
“The doubts that have been raised about Whitefish, from my point of view, are completely unfounded,” he added.
Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames told the newspaper that the company is taking "personal risks and business risks working in perilous physical and financial conditions.”
“So the carping by others is unfounded, and we stand by our work and our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico," he said.
Zinke's office said in an email to the Post that Zinke and Whitefish's chief executive know each other.
"Everybody knows everybody" in the town, Zinke's office said, adding that Zinke wasn't involved in the contract.
Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Mont., the home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Its chief executive, Andy Techmanski, and Zinke acknowledge knowing one another — but only, Zinke’s office said in an email, because Whitefish is a small town where “everybody knows everybody.” One of Zinke’s sons “joined a friend who worked a summer job” at one of Techmanski’s construction sites, the email said. Whitefish said he worked as a “flagger.”
The scale of the disaster in Puerto Rico is far larger than anything Whitefish has handled. The company has won two contracts from the Energy Department, including $172,000 to replace a metal pole structure and splice in three miles of new conductor and overhead ground wire in Arizona.
Shortly before Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Whitefish landed its largest federal contract, a $1.3 million deal to replace and upgrade parts of a 4.8-mile transmission line in Arizona. The company — which was listed in procurement documents as having annual revenue of $1 million — was given 11 months to complete the work, records show.
Puerto Rico has 2,400 miles of transmission lines across the island, and 30,000 miles of distribution lines with 300 substations. Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ power restoration task force, estimated that 80 percent of the grid has been damaged. A month after the storm, about 80 percent of customers remain without power.