Commissioners of Wahkiakum PUD returned this week to discuss the Town of Cathlamet’s recent plans to terminate the current water contract in 2037 if the Town’s demands for increased compensation could not be met.
“The letter didn’t just say they planned to terminate the contract," Commissioner Dennis Reid said. “They said if favorable negotiations do not occur, the town cannot continue to supply water to the Puget Island Water System (PIWS) beyond the contract termination date, so that’s different than just not renewing the contract in my mind.”
“They are tying the two together, which makes it extortion,” Commissioner Robert Junger replied.
Jungers said that during the past week he had used publicly available information, including current rates and the amount of water purchased from the town from the 2012 fiscal year, to test the town's assertion that the PUD is using 33 percent of their water and providing 14 percent of their revenue. He believes that the PUD is actually providing 56 percent of the revenue.
“Contrary to the mayor’s assertion that we are being subsidized by the Town of Cathlamet’s water system and the rate payers of the Town of Cathlamet,” Jungers said, “we are actually subsidizing them heavily. I haven’t gotten the figures from the town clerk. I’ve still got an inquiry in. I intend to make that inquiry formal today just to verify this. These figures, by nature of their extrapolation, are not precise, but they are extremely ballpark. It makes me extremely disinclined to offer any concessions whatsoever to renegotiate the town water contract.”
At the urging of his colleagues, Jungers will present his findings at the next Cathlamet town council meeting.
“If the information that is given out needs to be corrected, this is a good way to do it,” Tim Hanigan, PUD counsel, said.
“I think it will be a real eye opener to all the council members if they choose to believe it,” Jungers said. “Hopefully by the third Monday of this month I will have concrete numbers from the town clerk and I will be able to refine these numbers a little bit.”
Puget Island resident Kayrene Gilbertsen asked about the PUD’s plans to move forward.
“The commissioners have authorized me to engage our engineering firm,” replied General Manager Dave Tramblie, “in coming up with a list of options that would be available to us. He is working on that. We are exploring all of our options.”
Jungers mentioned the possibility of a treatment plant for Columbia River water as well as sinking wells on the mainland and continuing to pipe the water to the Island.
Responding to the idea of treating river water, Gilbertsen said, “It wouldn’t be unique to this community. You’ve got 24 years to look at this, and in the meantime, there is going to be a lot of new technology coming along, making things simpler and less expensive.
"The negativity is you know there will be more permits and they are going to be more expensive and more lengthy because that’s the name of the game. It’s not like Puget Island is going to be stuck without water. There will be alternatives. If Cathlamet doesn’t have the resources to play with Puget Island, we’ll play with somebody else.”
Jungers responded. “From our perspective, we don’t have 24 years, we’ve got today. We have to address this, because the sooner it is addressed, the more fiscally responsible it can be managed. We are actively pursuing it.”
In other business, Tramblie described a particularly difficult Friday before a holiday weekend that involved downed wires on Beaver Creek causing secondary problems and a late night alarm at a well in western Wahkiakum.
Vacationing employees were called in to assist, and last minute travel was necessary to acquire parts that were available in Puyallup, but no closer.
Tramblie complimented the crew, saying, “I think its just very telling, how everyone pitches in and finds a way to get things done here. It’s pretty awesome.”
Resolutions for the strategic plan and the delinquent notice fee were approved, as well as the preliminary budget for 2014. The commissioners agreed on dates for the annual budget and rate hearings. They are set for November 5 at the regular 8:30 a.m. commissioner’s meeting in the PUD meeting room and at Rosburg Hall on November 19 at 6 p.m., which will be a change from the commission's regular meeting schedule.
The next regular meeting is September 17 at 8:30 a.m.