Despite Donald Trump’s glowing assessment of his administration’s recovery effort in Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory is still in the throes of a major humanitarian crisis wrought by Hurricane Maria. Clean water remains in short supply, and nearly 80 percent of the island is still without power. To make matters worse, the commonwealth is in such a perilous financial situation that it is expected to run out of cash by the end of October. Assuming the Senate and president approve the House’s $4.9 billion aid package, it will likely need another cash infusion within three months.
Despite all that, The Washington Post reports that the territory’s state-owned electrical utility awarded a two-year-old company from Montana, which at the time of the hurricane had only two full-time employees, a $300 million contract to restore its electrical grid. Even more curiously, the company, Whitefish Energy, is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who knows the owner, Andy Techmanski, and whose son worked a summer job at one of Techmanski’s construction sites.
Both Techmanski and Zinke deny that the Cabinet official had any role in helping Whitefish secure the contract, which makes the power authority’s decision odd at best. For one thing, in hiring Whitefish, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, chose not to activate the “mutual aid” agreements it has with other utilities, an arrangement that enabled Florida to bring in thousands of workers to restore power immediately after Hurricane Irma hit. (According to the Post, PREPA “has not replied to offers of assistance from mutual-aid partners.” For another, Whitefish, which had only two employees the day Maria made landfall, seemingly lacks the credentials to tackle such a project—and that’s putting it mildly.