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PUERTO RICO (CBSMiami) – Five weeks since Hurricane Maria, 75 percent of residents in Puerto Rico are still without power.
It’s why lawmakers announced an investigation into Whitefish Energy, the small company awarded the $300 million job to rebuild the island’s power distribution system.
“My biggest concern is we don’t have enough information as to the process that went into that,” said Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House committee that oversees Puerto Rico.
The government power company – known as PREPA – signed the contract with Whitefish Energy, a two-person, two-year-old company whose largest previous federal contract had been for $1.3 million to upgrade lines in Arizona.
PREPA filed for bankruptcy in July amid the island’s ongoing debt crisis. It bypassed a network of utilities and a “mutual aid” system that is usually activated for storm recovery.
The $300 million contract is the biggest yet for Puerto Rico’s recovery effort – and for Whitefish, which relies on subcontractors for their work.
“This appears to be a pretty small company,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “Are they capable of doing the job that they’re being asked?”
Murkowski, the chair of the energy committee, expects a hearing on Puerto Rico in the next week. Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell is calling for the Government Accountability Office to investigate.
The Whitefish CEO told CNN there’s nothing fishy about its Puerto Rico contract.
“We’ve been around for a few years and we specialize in difficult mountainous terrain projects so. All I can say is we took the call and we’re here,” said Andrew Techmanski.
Whitefish’s ties to the administration are under scrutiny.
The company is backed by HBC Investments. That firm’s founder and general partner Joe Colonnetta gave $33,000 to the campaign of then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is now Energy secretary. Colonnetta and his wife gave $28,200 to President Trump.
Additionally, Techmanski knows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – and Whitefish is based in Zinke’s hometown.
The Interior Department and Whitefish say Zinke played no role in the contract. And the company says Colonnetta didn’t either. Whitefish officials say they were willing to work for $2 million up front while the other company that PREPA was considering wanted $25 million. On Wednesday night, Puerto Rico’s governor said he will be reviewing the contracting process.