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Puerto Rico Still in the Dark: the Case of Whitefish Energy and Million Dollar a Year Lineman

Lights, cell service, sewer and water treatment plants came back on quickly in Florida and Houston after hurricane Maria. But Puerto Rico still remains largely in the dark one month later, with power restored to only 20% of the island.

Mutual aid from the nation’s utilities saved the day in Texas and Florida. 5,000 utility workers rushed in to restore power. Under mutual aid, workers earn normal wages, around $1,300 a week ($70,000 a year) plus expenses for linemen, the costs to be repaid from rates collected by the local utility that was helped. The system worked spectacularly well in Houston and Florida.

But in Puerto Rico little has been accomplished so far. PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) rejected the offers for mutual aid stating that as a bankrupt company it could not guarantee repayment to helping utilities. Instead, PREPA signed a $300 million dollar contract with Whitefish Energy, an unknown two person firm from Whitefish Montana to restore much of Puerto Rico’s power. Whitefish Montana, by coincidence, is also the home of Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. One of Zinke’s sons reportedly worked for Whitefish Energy as a summer flagger.

What’s most interesting are the labor rates to be charged by Whitefish for the 300 lineman it plans to bring to Puerto Rico to work as sub-contractors disclosed in a Oct. 23, Washington Post story. Lineman will be paid $319 an hour, and nightly accommodation fees of $332 a worker ,plus $80 food allowance. This should mean over one million dollars a year per lineman (if they work ten hours a day for six days a week with two weeks vacation) just for wages.This means $300 million for 300 lineman.

Mutual aid, in contrast would mean lineman would be paid $70,000 a year, plus $30,000 living allowance or $100,000 a year. $300 million should pay for 3,000 mutual aid lineman, not 300 lineman under the gold plated Whitefish Contract.

Something smells really fishy about this deal.

Meanwhile Americans in Puerto Rico remain without lights, without water, without sewage treatment, without cell service, without proper medical care while the owners of tiny Whitefish Energy become very rich men indeed.

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