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Puerto Rico officers defend Whitefish contract earlier than Congress

Top Puerto Rico officers defended the territory’s response to Hurricane Maria, telling a Senate committee on Tuesday that they labored shortly to try to restore the island’s stricken electrical grid.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) and the pinnacle of the island’s state-run power utility stated their unique resolution to grant a big grid restore contract to a small Montana power agency was the precise one given the guarantees the corporate made to the island.

“I authorized the Whitefish [Energy] contract while we continued to seek additional assistance from others for the complete, multi-billion dollar restoration effort still to come,” Ricardo Ramos, the manager director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), advised the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday.

“My priority was securing the immediate assistance of first responders that we desperately needed.”

Lawmakers, authorities watchdogs and investigators have scrutinized Puerto Rico’s $300 million restore contract with Whitefish Energy, a Montana agency which solely had two staff when Maria hit the island on Sept. 20. Whitefish has charged excessive charges for restore work on the island, and the Trump administration has distanced itself from the deal.

Territorial authorities canceled its contract with the corporate late final month amid growing scrutiny, although Whitefish continues engaged on the island. Puerto Rico has entered into mutual assist agreements with states and nonprofits for different restore work.

Senators on Tuesday questioned why the island didn’t transfer quicker to enter into the mutual assist agreements, which historically price lower than personal sector work.

“The notion that someone comes in there to gouge the Puerto Rico government and the U.S. taxpayer, charging them an exorbitant rate, and then writing them a contract so they can’t be reviewed properly, is a great injustice to the U.S. taxpayer,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats oppose effort to delay or repeal Interior methane rule Senators spar over proposal to drill in Alaska wildlife refuge Fake quorum calls are an excuse for the Senate’s inaction MORE (D-Wash.) stated.

But Ramos and Rosselló stated a personal sector deal, backed by federal emergency administration businesses, supplied Puerto Rico the promise to restore the island’s grid extra shortly than mutual assist agreements.

They stated the contract supplied by Whitefish was probably the most preferable as a result of Puerto Rico didn’t must make a big downpayment, one thing it couldn’t afford to do due to the island’s poor funds.

“After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, I believed PREPA was unable to meet the requirements for mutual aid” set by exterior businesses, Ramos stated.

“I needed people that were self-contained, military-unit types that could bring their diesel, that could bring their food — everything — and act as first responders.”

Nearly two months after the devastating storm hit, lower than 50 p.c of Puerto Rico has energy, although Rosselló stated staff ought to cross that threshold by Wednesday. The island is aiming to have 95 p.c of energy restored by the tip of the yr.

Whitefish has defended its work on the island and its contract with Puerto Rico, saying its charges had been consistent with the price of doing restore work on the island territory. 

“Typically in storm restoration work, other repair workers can drive from neighboring states, stay in hotels on the outskirts of the storm where there still is electricity, and drive their bucket trucks into the storm area daily to perform repair work,” Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski wrote in a Morning Consult op-ed on Tuesday.

“Such ease of access was not possible in Puerto Rico since workers and equipment all needed to be sent to the island by air or by water.”

But lawmakers made it clear they’re nonetheless upset concerning the Whitefish contract and the island’s gradual restoration efforts.

“Its one thing to be responsive in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMoore digs in amid mounting GOP criticism Republicans float pushing again Alabama particular election Moore defends himself as strain mounts MORE (R-Alaska) stated. “It’s another thing to be engaged in something we would call gouging of the taxpayer when you look at the terms that were agreed to.”

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