Whitefish Energy CEO reflects on herculean effort
Andy Techmanski had his eye on the weather reports coming out of the Caribbean in early September last year as his crew was wrapping up two power-line projects in the state of Washington.
Hurricane Irma had just delivered its powerful punch to a band of islands, including Puerto Rico, and parts of Florida.
Techmanski, the chief executive officer of Whitefish Energy, contemplated his next move.
“We had all these guys assembled, and essentially we knew we had the right crew structure and skill set to help the folks,” he told the Inter Lake, recounting his decision to inquire about power restoration work in Puerto Rico.
Techmanski was familiar with the area. He had done work on the island of St. Thomas and had vacationed several times in Puerto Rico. He knew the kind of equipment they’d need to restring power lines through jungle and mountainous terrain.
He reached out to Ricardo Ramos, chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), offering his company’s special skills in working in rugged terrain. The power authority was interested, and asked Techmanski to submit a mobilization plan.
Then Hurricane Maria descended on Puerto Rico with a vengeance less than two weeks after Irma.
Compelled to find a way to get down there, Techmanski got in touch with PREPA authorities as they were assessing the damage.
“Communication slowed down substantially. There was no power, no internet, limited connectivity,” Techmanski recalled.
He was able to make short calls via satellite phones, and the hit-and-miss communication from island officials was an SOS for help.
“They wanted to enlist our help as soon as possible and proceed with a contract,” he said.
Getting to the island was dicey.
“We made the decision to get down there to assess the damage and assess our risks,” he said.
Techmanski and three of his crew members chartered a plane. He remembers sitting on the airport tarmac in Dallas at 3 a.m., wondering if they could get there and what they’d find. It was pure luck that PREPA officials managed to meet them at the airport, given the magnitude of the storm damage. They proceeded to a candlelit conference room to negotiate a contract before scrambling back on the plane and flying out with just a half-hour to spare before the country’s air space was shut down.
“We rushed through the contract, because I knew once we leave, I may not be able to talk to these people,” he said.
The crew retreated to its headquarters in Whitefish and continued to tweak a mobilization plan, figuring out “what we’d need for money to get things on and off the island.” “None of us had ever shipped anything to Puerto Rico,” he noted.
The deal was that Whitefish Energy would get 141.1 million.
Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.