Ramon Espinosa / AP file
The CEO of Whitefish Energy, Andy Techmanski,
told NBC News from San Juan on Saturday that he first made contact with officials on Puerto Rico through the business networking site LinkedIn shortly after Hurricane Irma hit in September — and not through any previous connections. He said he kept in contact with them through Hurricane Maria’s devastation.
“I think that there are people out there on a witch hunt looking for something that does not exist,” he said.
Irma knocked out power to one million customers in Puerto Rico, but the devastating Hurricane Maria knocked out power to the entire island. As of Sunday,
Puerto Rican officials said there was only about 30 percent of power generation on the island.
Controversy over the up to $300 million contract has grown following
a report in The Washington Post detailing the mounting questions surrounding the deal.
Members of Congress from both parties and Puerto Rican officials have called for investigations into the deal.
It was widely reported that Whitefish only had two full-time employees when Maria made landfall, a number not disputed by Whitefish’s own newly-hired media team at the time.
But Techmanski told NBC News that figure is incorrect, and that the company had 20-40 full-time employees working projects in Arizona, Montana and Washington State. He said Whitefish has more than 350 workers in Puerto Rico and plans to have more than 500 there soon.
“We’re here doing actual work,” Techmanski said. “We’re under a contract and we came in good faith, and I think we’re making an impact.”
Techmanski also strongly denied that U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is also from Whitefish, Montana, or anyone else in President Donald Trump’s administration had anything to do with his securing the contract.
Zinke said in a statement Friday that “I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico” and any suggestions of involvement or influence “are completely baseless.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement Friday that it had “significant concerns” and had not approved the deal, despite a portion of the contract that suggested otherwise.
“That’s simply not something we would do,” Mike Byrne, FEMA’s coordinator in Puerto Rico, told NBC News on Saturday.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a vocal critic of the deal and the Trump administration in general, said Rossello must now “fire the person that signed the contract” on MSNBC Sunday following news of the mayor’s announcement.
“The person responsible for signing the contract must be fired immediately and of course that is the head of PREPA, Ricardo Ramos,” she said.
Gabe Gutierrez reported from San Juan, Daniella Silva reported from New York City.