Puerto Rico gov’t: Trump had nothing to do with Whitefish Energy’s contract
SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Ricardo Ramos, said Tuesday that he was unaware of donations to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by one of the top executives of Whitefish Energy Holdings, one of the companies hired by the commonwealth government to repair the island’s electric grid after it was taken down by Hurricane Maria.
Prepa will pay $300 million to Whitefish, which reportedly only has two full-time employees. According to an investigation by the Daily Beast, the company that funds Whitefish, HBC Investments, was founded by Joe Colonenetta, who is also a partner of the energy company.
Colonnetta contributed as much as possible, $2,700, to the “Trump Victory” political action committee (PAC) and the same amount for his presidential primary campaign. He also contributed $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, to which his wife, Kimberly, also contributed $33,400.
Other company connections with the Republican Party were reported by the Washington Post, which wrote that Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski is a friend of U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is from Montana, where Whitefish is based.
“In the hiring process, Donald Trump did not intervene,” the island’s secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy, Ramón Rosario, said in a press conference alongside the public power utility’s director, in the Convention Center, in Miramar, which serves as the government’s operations center in the aftermath of Hurricane María.
The officials defended the hiring of Whitefish, saying it was one of the companies that did not request an advance payment from Prepa, which is currently going through a bankruptcy-like process under Title III of the Promesa law in federal court.
Ramos explained that of the five private companies evaluated, two of them met the requirements sought: PowerSecure and Whitefish. These requirements ranged from how quickly they could perform the work needed and mobilization, to experience and negotiation terms.
“Hours before the hurricane, PowerSecure’s board of directors required, due to Prepa’s financial situation, a prompt payment or a guarantee of payment of $25 million,” the island’s utility director said. “At that time, Prepa could not commit to advance [payments]; therefore, Whitefish was the only one that was the first that could be mobilized to Puerto Rico, that didn’t ask for an advance or a payment guarantee, thus, it was authorized over the phone to begin its mobilization just before the hurricane mad landfall.”
However, reports by the Washington Post point out that Prepa disbursed $3.4 million to mobilize Whitefish to Puerto Rico before work began.
Ramos said the participation of the American Public Power Association (APPA) in the process was ruled out because Prepa had to take responsibility for the mobilization of crews, the logistics of having lodging and food for them, as well as the materials they needed.
“I believe it was the best decision we could make [contracting Whitefish] and if I had to make it again, I would.” I don’t know, really, [but] for some reason someone in the United States has to be upset, because they aren’t here, that I have hired Whitefish, but that is their problem,” Ramos said.
The official said he was “relaxed” about the contract because, he said, Prepa is not only overseen by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, but also by the Office of Management and Budget (OGP), the fiscal control board and the federal court.
Payment for repairing the the grid, which collapsed almost entirely in the wake of the hurricane, will be repaid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
While Prepa spokesman Carlos Monroig told the Weather Channel that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and FEMA are evaluating the contracts awarded by the utility, both entities have “attempted to distance themselves from the Whitefish contract,” according to the Daily Beast.
This is not the only controversy in which the company has been involved. In the past few weeks it was reported that it did not have enough materials to carry out the work. Rosario and Ramos said Tuesday that Whitefish, as well as the other companies contracted by Prepa and USACE, have their own materials, which they could share.