Whitefish Vitality contract is ‘alarming’


WASHINGTON — A $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s hurricane-damaged energy grid that was given to a tiny Montana firm needs to be voided, stated San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who stated the method of awarding the no-bid contract raised moral and authorized questions. In an interview with Yahoo Information on Tuesday night, Cruz described the contract as “alarming.”

As of Wednesday morning, 75 p.c of Puerto Rico doesn’t have energy because of injury from Hurricane Maria. The storm hit the island, which is a U.S. territory, on Sept. 20.

The Puerto Rico Electrical Energy Authority signed the contract with Montana’s Whitefish Vitality final month. On the time, the agency had simply two full-time staff. The contract was awarded and not using a aggressive bidding course of. Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest metropolis, described the Montana firm as insufficient and stated there seems to be a scarcity of “due diligence” behind the contract.

“The contract should be voided right away, and a proper process which is clear, transparent, legal, moral and ethical should take place,” Cruz stated.

“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 stated of Whitefish. “What we need is somebody that can get the job done and that has the expertise to get the job done.”

Cruz, who has been a persistent critic of President Trump’s dealing with of the storm injury on the island, stated Puerto Ricans, who’re U.S. residents, are going through a “life-and-death situation” greater than a month after the hurricane made landfall.

“Most of the people in Puerto Rico still don’t have any electricity or any energy. And we’re not talking about wanting energy to have air conditioners. We’re talking about having energy to use it as a motor for our economic development, to have appropriate surgical facilities, to be able to have our children go back to school,” she stated.

Based on the Washington Put up, Whitefish Vitality’s chief govt, Andy Techmanski, has hyperlinks to Trump’s secretary of the inside, Ryan Zinke. The agency relies in Zinke’s hometown, and considered one of Zinke’s sons beforehand labored at considered one of Techmanski’s building websites. Each the secretary’s workplace and Whitefish deny Zinke performed any position within the agency’s Puerto Rico contract. Zinke’s workplace informed the Put up that Whitefish relies in a small city the place “everybody knows everybody.” Whitefish additionally stated it’s as much as the duty of repairing the ability grid and that, as of Monday, it had 280 staff in Puerto Rico.

Along with seeing Whitefish’s deal “voided,” Cruz stated she desires to see a “bidding process” and better transparency for different rebuilding contracts on the island.

“Every contract that comes out needs to be a public document. … This is one of the things that we are asking for, and the due diligence that goes towards that contract also needs to be public documents,” stated Cruz. She added, “Not just for the Puerto Rican people to see. This is U.S. taxpayers’ money. I don’t care if the dollar comes from a Puerto Rican or from a Hawaiian. It’s a dollar.”

Together with the shortage of energy on the island, greater than 25 p.c of Puerto Ricans do not need dependable entry to consuming water.

“I’ve seen people drinking from creeks, mothers just holding their babies saying, ‘Please help me,’” Cruz stated. “The federal response has been inadequate. Frankly, it’s an embarrassment.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz exterior a brief authorities middle. (Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Pictures)

Puerto Rico was going through a fiscal disaster earlier than the storm injury. Cruz stated she desires to see the island’s cities, which needed to minimize their budgets, obtain cash from disaster-relief appropriations by Congress. Cruz can also be looking for repeal of the Jones Act, which requires utilizing American-owned and -operated vessels for items shipped between U.S. ports. After criticism, the Trump administration granted Puerto Rico a 10-day waiver from the legislation. Critics have argued that the island ought to get an extended extension to expedite help.

“Let’s get some of the bureaucracy out of the way,” stated Cruz.

Within the final week, Cruz stated that the Federal Emergency Administration Company’s supply of meals and water was enhancing and that the Division of Homeland Safety helped her navigate that course of. However she stated the federal response nonetheless has a protracted option to go to satisfy the wants of the Puerto Rican individuals.

“Is it where it’s supposed to be? No. If I hadn’t had the private donations and the NGOs’ donations, I couldn’t feed people,” she stated.

Cruz stated many People have come from the mainland to volunteer with the reduction effort on Puerto Rico.

“I want to make sure that people understand that we know the difference between President Trump and the good-hearted people and the good-natured people of the United States. We know they’re not one and the same,” stated Cruz.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a New York Metropolis Democrat who was the primary Puerto Rican-born girl elected to Congress, has stated she believes the island’s residents are being handled in a different way from different U.S. residents as a result of they’re predominantly Latino. Cruz agreed with that evaluation.

“It’s because we’re a colony of the United States to begin with. … And people have danced around that word and they don’t want to say it. … We are a colony of the United States,” Cruz stated, including, “Yes, there is racism. There is discrimination. Mr. Trump may have the most powerful job in the world, but that does not make him a respectful person.”

Cruz described the president as “the face of inefficiency, bureaucracy and ineffectiveness.” Trump gave himself excessive marks for the federal response to the storm injury in Puerto Rico. He beforehand responded to the mayor’s critiques on Twitter, the place he accused her of getting “poor leadership ability” and claimed she was “told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

The White Home didn’t reply to a request for touch upon this story.

Critics have recommended Cruz’s assaults on Trump’s hurricane response are motivated by a need to run for governor of Puerto Rico. Cruz belongs to the island’s In style Democratic Occasion and stated she is allied with the mainland Democratic Occasion. She added that her criticism of Trump will not be partisan and that she has no intention of operating for governor.

Cruz stated she does “not care what Mr. Trump thinks about me.”

“This is not about his ego. This is about his unwillingness to help the people of Puerto Rico and to do his job,” stated Cruz. “He can come at me all he wants. I’m here. Bring it on.”

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