Home / World / After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion

After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion

Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana, requested why Congress ought to pay a lot for Puerto Rico, when Puerto Ricans are exempt from most federal revenue taxes.

Legislators additionally needed solutions about Whitefish Energy Holdings, the agency that received a contract with steep markups that a number of members of Congress described as “price gouging.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency distanced itself from the contract and the federal government was compelled to cancel it after a public outcry.

Ricardo L. Ramos, the chief government of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, often known as Prepa, instructed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he had employed Whitefish as a substitute of enlisting the assistance of different utilities beneath mutual help agreements as a result of he didn’t have sufficient provides for even his personal crews.

“We had no fuel, no phone, no internet. No nothing,” Mr. Ramos stated. “How could I bring more people into that situation?”

Whitefish was a contained unit with its personal satellite tv for pc telephones and tents, he stated.

However, in emails launched Monday between Prepa and Whitefish, it was clear that the Montana firm had additionally struggled with housing and logistics, and that Prepa was in a position to accommodate them.

In an electronic mail trade between the chief government of Whitefish, Andy Techmanski, and Prepa, Whitefish requested lodge rooms for his staff, and the utility offered 60 rooms for them. Whitefish had hassle bringing in supplies, and wanted assist from each the Jacksonville Electric Authority and Prepa with logistical issues that have been stopping the corporate from getting the work accomplished.

Photo

Whitefish staff in Manatí, P.R., this month.

Credit
Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

“We have 60 rooms at Verdanza hotel reserved to accommodate your first wave,” wrote Ramón Caldas Pagán, a senior supervisor at Prepa, in an electronic mail response to Mr. Techmanski. “We need to know what are your needs to transport your equipment as soon as possible.”

At the hearings, Mr. Ramos instructed that the procurement workplace and authorized division at Prepa have been guilty, and insisted that there had been no corruption. “I don’t know of anyone being offered a kickback,” he stated.

The data have been launched by the House committee, which is in search of to strengthen the authority of the fiscal oversight board that manages Puerto Rico’s funds.

The paperwork confirmed that Puerto Rico’s electrical firm disregarded its personal attorneys’ recommendation when it signed the contract. The settlement supplied so few protections that it allowed some staff to invoice for “nearly every waking hour” they have been on the island, in keeping with the House panel investigating the deal.

A evaluate by The New York Times confirmed the corporate was paying some subcontractors about one-seventh what it billed Prepa. The contract referred to as for linemen to work 16-hour days and seven-day weeks at $319 an hour — 17 occasions the common wage of the Puerto Rican staff. But Mr. Ramos stated that 5 different bidders had supplied related charges.

Prepa’s attorneys had suggestions on the whole lot from how the contract could possibly be terminated to how the charges needs to be set. But the steerage was not adopted — and the ultimate provisions agreed to have been tilted within the Whitefish’s favor, the data present. Even Prepa’s personal threat administration officer had balked, as a result of he was by no means supplied the chance to judge the phrases, nor did the workplace obtain proof of insurance coverage.

“We are conscious of the urgency of the work to be done,” Sammy Rodríguez Ortega, a Prepa government, wrote in an Oct. 19 electronic mail to Prepa’s finance director and workers lawyer. “However, there are high risks associated with the scope of this work.”

The emails present lawyer for FEMA in Puerto Rico had additionally expressed considerations.

A spokesman for Whitefish, Ken Luce, stated the corporate would cooperate with Congress.

“Whitefish Energy continues to make progress on our assigned work to restore electrical transmission infrastructure on Puerto Rico and our team of more than 500 workers remains fully committed to this mission,” Mr. Luce stated in a press release.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing energy restoration efforts in Puerto Rico, however Mr. Rosselló stated the company was sluggish to ramp up its work. Nearly eight weeks after Hurricane Maria trampled the island and tore up the whole lot from transmissions towers to energy poles and miles of strains, the grid is producing simply 49 % of its capability.

Kenneth Mapp, the governor of the United States Virgin Islands, additionally testified and supplied a bleak view of situations there, urging Congress to alter the way in which it allocates medical and storm reduction funds to the territories.

Only 30 % of residents have electrical energy after Hurricanes Irma and Maria pounded the islands, the place 9 faculties and two hospitals have been destroyed. Families live of their vehicles and getting soaked in properties with no rooftops or partitions, he stated.

“With each rainfall, families are being harmed,” Mr. Mapp stated.

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