Puerto Rico utility expected to get emergency manager after outcry over contract to tiny Montana company: report

Puerto Rico's financial oversight board reportedly plans to appoint an emergency manager to oversee its electric utility.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico has moved to appoint Noah Zamot, a member of the board's executive team, to direct the utility's day-to-day operations.

The move comes amid backlash over the utility's decision to award a $300,000 million contract to a small Montana-based firm to repair the territory's badly damaged electric grid following Hurricane Maria.

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The firm, Whitefish Energy, had two full-time employees at the time the hurricane struck Puerto Rico last month, and has never before worked on a project as large in scale as the one in Puerto Rico. It is located in the Montana hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeEnergy development will likely land one bird on the Endangered Species list Montana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Overnight Energy: Navajo coal plant to close | NC dam breach raises pollution fears | House panel to examine endangered species bills MORE.

The firm has said, however, that it has expertise working in mountainous and difficult-to-access areas, which qualify it to take on the work in Puerto Rico, according to the Post.

Democrats in the House and Senate have called for an investigation into why Whitefish was awarded the contract, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has said the contract should be voided.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Wednesday he had ordered a review of process that led to the electric utility awarding the contract to Whitefish.

A month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, most residents remain without power. As of Thursday morning, only about 26 percent of the island had electricity restored, according to a website operated by the Puerto Rican government. 

Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for Rosselló, told the Post that the 2016 legislation that established the oversight board does not allow the panel "to do a takeover of the government," and that Rosselló would ultimately decide what the territory does.

“The board can recommend whatever it wants, but it’s the decision of the governor how he is going to run the government," Mercader said.