The story of Andy Techmanski and Whitefish Energy has finally been told, and as so often seems to be the case, the true story is nothing like what was reported by the national media in the months following the destruction of the electric power grid in Puerto Rico by two hurricanes that hit the island late last year.
In an exclusive interview with Inter Lake features editor Lynnette Hintze, Techmanski told his own story of coming to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria not just to find work for his small independent company based in Whitefish, but also to give assistance to the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of a devastating storm that crippled the island’s economy. Techmanski did everything right, both from a business point of view and from an ethical point of view. He offered a favorable contract to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and then he delivered on it.
Sadly, because of a very tenuous connection to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, reporters latched on to the Whitefish Energy story not as a remarkable tale of what a can-do attitude can accomplish, but rather as something that must be too good to be true. As a result of that early, speculative and mostly misleading reporting, Techmanski ultimately lost the contract he had won fair and square, leaving most of the work to other companies. What we now know, thanks to the hard facts compiled by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority itself, is that Whitefish Energy was far and away the most efficient power contractor on the job, and rather than saving the impoverished island money by canceling the contract, the exact opposite happened.
Whitefish Energy billed $141.1 million to restore five transmission line segments, a job which it completed in remarkably short time — less than 60 days. The other contractors have billed more than $2 billion in total, and have completed only 20 of the 33 transmission line segments that were assigned to them. Sounds like if there are going to be hearings about what went wrong in Puerto Rico, it should be to find out why Whitefish Energy was taken off the job, not why it won the original contract.
What’s particularly unseemly is that Whitefish Energy, which stayed on the job for 30 days after its contract was pulled, is still owed more than $100 million for services rendered. Former Labor Secretary Ray Donovan famously quipped “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” after he was cleared of fraud charges by a jury. Techmanski could ask that same question, with the added query, “And what about my money?” Hopefully, Montana’s congressional delegation will look into this case and work to set things right.