News & Politics

Why Is Whitefish Energy Demeaning San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Twitter?

The Montana company has deep ties to the Trump administration.

Photo Credit: The National Guard / Flickr Creative Commons

The outlandishness of the deal that saw two-person, office-free, experience-free, connections-many Whitefish Energy given the task of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s energy grid—along with a $300 million check—came under additional scrutiny on Wednesday. It started when San Juan  Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz dared to ask for more transparency in determining how the astonishing contract was awarded. That generated an entirely presidential response from the tiny Montana company.

 

 

Aside from the utter dickishness of threatening a whole city over the mayor asking for more transparency, the most astounding thing might be that Whitefish has managed to hire just 44 linemen to work on city of 400,000. But then, they’ve yet to land 300 people in all of Puerto Rico—about one for every 10,000 Americans still without power. Or one for every 8 miles of downed power lines.

Apparently, the response to this statement made it clear to Whitefish that this level of rude was more than people would accept, even from a utility. Wednesday evening, Whitefish rushed out an apology. But it wasn’t in time to prevent Governor Ricardo Rosselló—who had previously spoken out to support the company operated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown friend—from calling for an inquiry into just how the contract was awarded.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló sent a letter Wednesday to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office requesting that the office audit how the Whitefish Energy company earned the contract.

And it definitely seems like the process by which the utility awarded this contract is worth investigating.

Whitefish was awarded the deal without a competitive bidding process, and despite the facts that it had just two full-time employees and was established only two years ago. That drew criticism from legislators who suggested cheaper options might have been available.

At the same time that Puerto Rico is being attacked for fiscal issues, the semi-public electrical utility awarded a $300 million contract without getting other bids. Coincidentally, that contract went to a company that was based in the home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and backed by a pair of big GOP donors who had other connections to Team Trump.

Zinke isn’t the only member of the Trump administration with a connection to the Whitefish contract. In addition to the Colonnettas’ contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign, Kimberly Colonnetta’s Facebook page contains a photo of her with Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development. Another photo appears to show Kimberly Colonnetta with Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Both photos were posted the week of Trump’s inauguration.

Until Wednesday, Whitefish seemed to have Governor Rosselló’s support, and suspicion that the contract had been awarded unfairly was attached to some members of his office. Whether Rosselló was turned around by Whitefish’s comments to Mayor Cruz, or whether he wanted to distance himself in light of other calls for an investigation isn’t clear.

 

Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."

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