Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Thursday said officials on the island backed into a controversial no-bid contract with Whitefish of Montana to help it restore power on the island only after the Army Corps of Engineers was failing to make any progress.
"Corps of Engineers, it's unacceptable what has happened," Rossello said on MSNBC.
Rossello has mostly praised the work of the Trump administration, but he argued Thursday that things have not gone as smoothly as President Trump has indicated. Aside from the Army Corps failure, he noted that Texas and Florida have been approved for permanent restoration work more quickly than Puerto Rico.
Rossello said he initially was hoping the Army Corps could do the work, but said that hasn't happened so far.
"On Sept. 30, I signed an agreement ... with the Corps of Engineers under the direct statement that they would start immediately, that they would lift the energy grid in 45 days," he said.
Rossello said the advantage to that agreement was that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be able to deputize the Army Corps, and Puerto Rico would not have to pay anything.
"However, the reality is, 35 days later, the Corps of Engineers has not started the work," he added.
Rossello indicated that this is what forced Puerto Rico to quickly strike a $300 million agreement with Whitefish, a move that was criticized in part because it was thought that this deal may have happened because it is close to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Other reports have suggested that Rossello or his campaign aide may have had ties to that company. But Rossello denied that Thursday. "I personally have no ties," he said. "I had nothing to do with that contract."
Rossello stressed that he canceled the Whitefish contract as soon as it stirred up controversy.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers told a Senate hearing this week that U.S. efforts to aid Puerto Rico were slowed because many local officials resisted their help.
"We've run into some really interesting politics within the 78 municipalities that make up Puerto Rico in terms of how they are allowing us to gain access," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. Donald E. Jackson told Senate lawmakers.
Rossello said about 35 percent of people on the island have power again, and he hopes that can reach 50 percent by the middle of November.