Director of Puerto Rico power company resigns amid scrutiny

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2017 file photo, a boy accompanied by his dog watches the repairs of Guajataca Dam, which cracked during the passage of Hurricane Maria, in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico. Experts said on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, that Puerto Rico could face nearly two decades of further economic stagnation and a steep drop in population as a result of Maria. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The director of Puerto Rico’s power company resigned on Friday amid ongoing blackouts and scrutiny of a contract awarded to a small Montana-based company to help rebuild the electric grid destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority said Ricardo Ramos presented his letter of resignation to the company’s board effective immediately. Officials said Ramos would soon provide additional information.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello briefly told reporters that Ramos is a professional who worked hard to bring power back to Puerto Rico, but that “there were a series of distractions, and a decision was taken to go in another direction.”

“That resignation was taken … in the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Hours after the resignation, Rossello recommended that the board appoint Justo Gonzalez, the company’s power generation director, as interim director.

Earlier this week, Ramos testified before a U.S. Senate committee about a $300 million contract awarded to Whitefish Energy Holdings that has since been canceled. The contract is undergoing a local and federal audit.

Prior to the announcement of Ramos’ resignation, local newspaper El Vocero had reported on Friday that Ramos had awarded a nearly $100,000 contract to an attorney for consulting work just days after Hurricane Irma brushed past Puerto Rico. It was the same attorney Ramos previously had tried to appoint as sub-director of the power company. Rossello said that contract also will be reviewed.

Ramos said in a Facebook post published on Friday before his resignation that the contract was legitimate.

“Absolutely nothing was done outside the law,” he said.

More than 20 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remain without power nearly two months after Maria hit the U.S. territory as a Category 4 hurricane. A major blackout occurred on Wednesday just as the government had announced it had reached 50 percent of power generation. Two more large blackouts have since been reported as crews work to restore power.

Ramos said the recent blackouts were a result of problems ranging from overgrown vegetation to fuel not being supplied on time.

Rossello has said he anticipates 80 percent power generation by end of November and 95 percent by mid-December. However, the U.S. Corps of Engineers has said it expects 75 percent power generation by end of January.

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