Whitefish Stops Work in Puerto Rico Over $83M Bill

Whitefish Energy announced on Monday that it will be halting its work to restore power in Puerto Rico. The company says it has not yet been paid for work completed.

Whitefish claims that invoices from October have yet to be paid and it cannot continue working without payment. According to the Associated Press, the Puerto Rican government owes the company over $83 million.

The lack of payments, the company says, is a breach of contract, which totals $300 million.

Governor Ricardo Rossello canceled the contract with Whitefish last month after public backlash. While the contract was canceled, both parties agreed that Whitefish would complete its current projects and remain on the island until the end of November.

The company says it will resume work if it receives the payments it’s owed.

Puerto Rico’s government, on the other hand, said on Monday that it is reviewing and auditing invoices from Whitefish. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority was forced to stop any pending payments until the situation with Whitefish is “clarified.”

The contract with Whitefish was canceled in October amid controversy surrounding the electric company. Montana-based Whitefish had just two employees at the time the storm hit the island.

The company is based in Whitefish, Montana, home of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Whitefish’s CEO and Zinke know one another. One of Zinke’s children had a summer job with Whitefish, according to the Washington Post.

Zinke denies being involved in Whitefish landing the Puerto Rico contract, its biggest yet.

FEMA expressed concerns with the Whitefish deal, citing unreasonable prices. Whitefish’s deal included the following charges: $650/hour for a crane truck; $20, 777/hour for a Chinook helicopter; $319/hour for a journeyman lineman; $322/hour for a power line crew foreman; and $286/hour for each mechanic. The deal also gave workers $80/day in food allowances; $1, 000 for each flight; and $332 for a hotel room.

The contract also included a clause that stated pay rates and certain terms of the agreement could not be reviewed by the comptroller general, the commonwealth, PREPA or FEMA.

FEMA has also expressed concerns over how PREPA obtained the contract.

While the conditions for home electrical repair in Puerto Rico are dangerous, other firms doing similar work are charging lower pay rates than Whitefish.

Shortly after the contract cancellation, the power company’s director resigned.

“We are very disappointed in the decision by Governor Rossell√≥ to ask PREPA to cancel the contract which led to PREPA’s announcement this afternoon, ” said Whitefish in a statement after the contract was canceled. “The decision will only 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.”

Over 20% of the island is still in the dark two months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the area as a category 4 storm. Major blackouts are also affecting some cities, including San Juan. Delayed fuel deliveries and overgrown vegetation are partly to blame for the continued power outages.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.