Called an "unusual" arrangement right from the start, a Montana energy company working in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is now raising eyebrows even higher. The New York Times reports Florida linemen hired as contractors by Whitefish Energy are making up to $100 an hour with double time, which, due to the emergency situation, is an "overage" utility experts say is still acceptable. But the now-canceled contract (with work set to end Nov. 30) between Whitefish and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority allows Whitefish to bill Prepa $319 an hour per lineman—what one ex-utility exec calls "empirically questionable." A Whitefish rep insists the company has to "pay a premium" to entice workers to the ravaged island (more than half of it is still without power, per Fortune); he also cites "overhead costs" and "the difficulty of the work."
Whitefish is also billing two to three times the usual rate for helicopters and aviation fuel, and $412 a day per worker for food and hotel stays, reports the Times, based on public records, industry insiders, and people with knowledge of the Whitefish contract. The controversy underlines what happens after a natural disaster and money flows without much care for the eventual tab—leaving regions vulnerable to being price-gouged or the victims of paperwork errors or oversights. The Whitefish contract had a clause that said it couldn't be audited, and there's now a second Prepa deal with an Oklahoma company being scrutinized for the same reason. Prepa is now working on mutual-aid agreements, in which such markups usually don't happen, with New York and Florida, and the feds are examining all other contracts with Puerto Rico. (Read more Whitefish Energy stories.)