(SAN JUAN, PR) – Hours after Gov. Ricardo Rossello called for its immediate termination, Puerto Rico's utility axed a $300 million grid repair contract awarded to two-year-old Montana-based Whitefish Energy. "It's an enormous distraction," Ricardo Ramos, CEO of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, said at a Sunday press conference, according to the Associated Press . "This was negatively impacting the work we're already doing." Ramos said the contract's cancellation will result in delays of 10 to 12 weeks, though the company will complete work it's already started.
In a statement, Whitefish said it was "very disappointed" by the decision and claimed it would "delay what the people of Puerto Rico want and deserve - to have the power restored quickly in the same manner their fellow citizens on the mainland experience after a natural disaster." During an interview with NBC News on Saturday, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski welcomed an audit into the contract and said his company had "nothing to hide."
Doubt this is the end of the story: Multiple congressional committees, government watchdogs and others are still going to want to answers to why the island's bankrupt utility awarded the massive contract in the first place to the tiny company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown. Just Friday, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel asked DHS to review the contract to determine whether FEMA could be responsible for reimbursing the island's power company for Whitefish's work.
Hearings starting this week: Expect the Whitefish scandal to dominate two congressional hearings on the government's response to a string of recent hurricanes this week. Homeland Security ranking member Claire McCaskill said the contract "raises every red flag in the book" and told federal officials they had "better be ready to answer tough questions" during a Tuesday hearing. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holds its own session Thursday on response efforts.