San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz harshly criticized the recent news that tiny Montana-based firm Whitefish Energy has been awarded a no-bid contract worth hundreds of million of dollars to repair Puerto Rico’s devastated electrical grid.
Calling the contract “alarming” in an interview with Yahoo published on Wednesday, Cruz accused the process of having lacked any “due diligence” and questioned whether the company—which one month ago boasted just two full-time employees—should stay on the job.
“The contract should be voided right away, and a proper process which is clear, transparent, legal, moral and ethical should take place,” Cruz insisted.
“It seems like what the Puerto Rican people are going to be paying for, or the American people are going to be paying for, is an intermediary that doesn’t know what is at stake here and that really has to subcontract everything,” she added. “What we need is somebody that can get the job done and that has the expertise to get the job done.”
Whitefish’s partnership with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, worth $300 million, has prompted many to question just how such a small and seemingly ill-equipped company was given the contract without the competitive serious bidding process one might expect for this type of job. (Incidentally, Whitefish Energy happens to be based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown. His son even worked for them briefly!)
Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló has defended the contract, saying Whitefish did not mandate an up-front payment from the cash-strapped Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority for its work.
Cruz, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the government’s ongoing response to Hurricane Maria.
“This is U.S. taxpayers’ money,” she told Yahoo. “I don’t care if the dollar comes from a Puerto Rican or from a Hawaiian. It’s a dollar.”
This week, Whitefish claimed it had 280 workers–the majority of them subcontractors—working across Puerto Rico. As of Wednesday afternoon, 75% of the island was still without power.
Update, 4:21 PM—On Wednesday Whitefish Energy responded to Cruz’s criticism while deflecting the substance of her comments.
In response, Cruz questioned the motives behind the company’s dismissal of her criticism:
To which Whitefish appeared to threaten withdrawing its workers from the area altogether.