Whitefish Energy Holdings has said it is halting work on restoring power in Puerto Rico because it has not been paid by the US territory’s government.
The company said late Monday that invoices for work done in October were outstanding and that it could no longer keep working. A letter sent to Puerto Rico officials stated the government owed Whitefish more than $83m.
CEO Andy Techmanski told CNN, which first reported the news: “We stopped because of the financial situation and lack of payment with [the Puerto RicoElectric Power Authority, or Prepa] has gotten beyond its maximum threshold of what we can sustain as a business. The exit plan is to try to get payment out of Prepa so we can continue to work for the last 10 days of our contract.
“We took a huge leap of faith in coming here when others were very doubtful or scared to come because of the bankruptcy issues with the island and Prepa,” Techmanski said. “We came here to try to do something positive for the people of Puerto Rico.”
Prepa said that pending payments had been halted after a Whitefish subcontractor contacted the authority requesting the stoppage because Whitefish owed them money. “Faced with this claim, Prepa had to stop the pending payments to Whitefish until the situation with the Whitefish subcontractor is clarified,” its statement read.
The authority also said both sides were in talks to reach an agreement that would satisfy everyone involved.
On Monday, Bill Clinton met with those left homeless by September’s category 4 storm and arrived with medical supplies and solar energy equipment donated by the Clinton Foundation, which has already shipped 76 tons of such aid.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló said Clinton’s visit would help people realize that Puerto Rico still needed relief. “It’s important to have him here because he has a vision of how to emerge from the emergency phase, establish normalcy and begin to rebuild,” he said.
The power dispute comes nearly a month after Rosselló’s administration canceled a $300m contract with Whitefish that is undergoing a local and federal audit.
The contract had drawn scrutiny after the small Montana company – which at the time employed two people – won the contract to restore the island’s power system following Hurricane Maria.
Federal committees have been trying to investigate how the contract was awarded to Whitefish, which is based in the home town of Donald Trump’s interior secretary, former congressman Ryan Zinke. The secretary has said that after the contract was awarded, he was in contact with Whitefish, and that his son had had an internship with the company.
In October, Zinke criticised “dishonest media”, adding that “only in elitist Washington DC would being from a small town be considered a crime.”
He denied any knowledge of or influence over the deal. The White House has also denied any impropriety.
When asked by the CNN interviewer if he would do this again, Techmanksi paused and replied: “I would, I would do a lot of things different.”
“I would probably get paid a lot more up front to cover the risks.”