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Puerto Rico power agreement a local problem: White House

The Trump administration scrambled Friday to distance itself from the decision to award a $300 million contract to assist bring back Puerto Rico’s power grid to a small Montana company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown.The White House stated federal authorities played no role in the choice of Whitefish Energy Holdings by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.The administration disavowed the contract amid a growing

variety of examinations and a bipartisan chorus of criticism from Capitol Hill.Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated Zinke had actually provided

the president his personal guarantee that he had nothing to do with exactly what she referred to as”a state and local choice made by the Puerto Rican authorities and not the federal government.”The interior secretary also issued a fiery rejection on Twitter, saying”Just in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a town be considered a criminal activity.”Whitefish Energy Holdings is headquartered in Whitefish, Montana, which has a population of about 7,200. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski. Zinke’s kid likewise had a summertime task at a Whitefish building site. “I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving

an agreement in Puerto Rico,” said Zinke in a statement connected to a tweet.”Any attempts by the deceitful media or political operatives to connect me to awarding or influencing any agreement involving Whitefish are totally baseless.”Zinke acknowledged that after the business’s initial agreement was granted, he was called by the business, though he did not offer the name of the person who reached out to him. Zinke stated he took no action which all pertinent documents would be disclosed to”appropriate officials.” “I welcome any and all examinations into these claims, “Zinke said.The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, a company guard dog, verified Friday that federal auditors will examine the Whitefish contract.” As part of their guideline, they will conduct vetting to search for the existence of any unsuitable relationships,”stated Arlen Morales, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office.The Federal Emergency Management Company, which is part of Homeland Security, said it has not authorized any compensation demands from the energy for money to cover ongoing repair work to the island’s power grid following Typhoon Maria.FEMA stated in a declaration that any language in the controversial agreement saying the firm approved of the offer with Whitefish is inaccurate. The agreement stated the utility would not

pay costs unallowable under FEMA grants, however it likewise said,”The federal government is not a celebration to this contract. “The firm stated its initial review raised substantial issues about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted costs were reasonable. The 2-year-old company had simply two full-time employees when the storm struck Sept. 20. It has actually considering that worked with more than 300 workers.A catalog connected to the Whitefish agreement examined by The Associated Press sets rates for both employees and equipment to be paid by the utility:$ 20,277 an hour for a heavy lift Chinook helicopter,$ 650 an hour for a large crane truck,$322 an hour for a supervisor of a power line crew, $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman and$286 an hour for a mechanic. Each employee also gets a day-to-day allowance of $80 for food,$332 for a hotel space and $1,000 for each flight to or from the mainland.Multiple congressional committees have actually opened investigations into the deal, the terms of which have activated concerns from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

, stated the Whitefish agreement”raises every warning in the book.”Democrats likewise raised questions about the function of HBC Investments, a key financial backer of Whitefish Energy. The Dallas-based business’s creator and general partner, Joe Colonnetta, has actually contributed countless dollars to Trump and other Republicans, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a former Texas guv

, and Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Colonnetta also offered to Trump’s inauguration.Whitefish spokesperson Chris Chiames called Colonnetta’s political contributions”unimportant.” The company stated it would cooperate with any info requests from federal authorities.” We are extremely pleased with the work we are doing to restore power to individuals of Puerto Rico under very hard circumstances, and we respectfully ask that others wait for the facts prior to jumping to misinformed conclusions,”the business stated in a declaration issued Friday.”We have one basic objective- to restore power to Puerto Rico as quickly and efficiently as possible.” Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority director Ricardo Ramos has actually praised the work carried out up until now, stating the company’s was the only offer the energy got that did not require a deposit. The power business is $9 billion in debt and was currently having a hard time to provide service in the middle of continuous power failures before hurricanes Irma and Maria struck last month.”There is nothing prohibited going on here, “Ramos stated Thursday.A federal control board that manages Puerto Rico’s

finances said this week it had actually selected a former military officer to supervise the work. Retired Flying Force Col. Noel Zamot will be accountable for speeding up restoration efforts and overseeing coordination with the board, Puerto Rico’s government and the federal government.It was not instantly clear whether Zamot would have the authority to void Whitefish’s agreement, although under the agreement the utility can suspend or end the agreement” for any or no factor”after providing written notice to Whitefish and compensating the company for actual expenses.About 75 percent of the U.S. territory stays without power more than a month after the Classification 4 storm made landfall.Puerto Rico Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario told press reporters on Friday he wasn’t acquainted with the contract’s details when asked why it consists of a clause that forbids an audit or evaluation of”the cost and revenue elements of the labor rates.”Rosario stated just that Puerto Rico’s governor already has actually requested an audit and that the government will turn over all pertinent documents. “There certainly needs to be openness, “Rosario said.” If anybody did anything prohibited, let them fry in prison.

“Associated Press writers Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ben Fox in Miami and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.(Copyright © 2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Booked. )

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