WASHINGTON, DC - Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) wanted answers from the FEMA administrator while he met with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday to talk about what went wrong in a controversial deal that PREPA made with Whitefish energy to restore power to the hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico area.
Despite the contention, FEMA says that "not one dollar" of the agency's money has been used to pay Whitefish Energy Holdings, but Puerto Rico authorities are asking them to pay $10 million for the power restoration efforts done so far.
That leaves it unclear how the young company will be reimbursed for the nearly month of work it has completed, considering the island's government and utility authorities both filed for bankruptcy this year.
The contract, signed in late September, called for an initial $3.7 million payment, followed by reimbursement of up to $300 million for completed satisfactory work.
FEMA administrator Brock Long says his agency would not have signed off on the contract, had they been made aware of it. Sen. Tester responded by questioning the judgement of PREPA to hire Whitefish Energy.
"I've been in office 132 days. For 70 of those days, we've been actively responding to Harvey, Irma, Maria and the extraordinary California wildfires as well, Long said. "Each one of these events that I just spoke of could truly be catastrophic stand-alone events but they happened in rapid succession of a 25 day period. Obviously unprecedented."
"I should be tickled pink that they gave a contract to a company in Montana," Sen. Tester said. "But as you look at the situation- two people, been in business two years, never done disaster work before. What kind of people are on this board?"
Major General Donald Jackson with the US Army Corps of Engineers said during the session that the island's "financial situation" meant utility companies "were hesitant to engage" out of concern they would not be paid. That's when PREPA struck the agreement with Whitefish.