The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

PUD not interested in water system merge


The Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners gathered for a regular meeting on June 20 and listened to reports and fielded questions from a local business owner about the town’s water and sewer system.

Laurel Waller, owner of the Hotel Cathlamet, asked if the PUD was considering taking over the water and sewer system from the Town of Cathlamet.

“We are very reticent about assuming responsibilities that could be financially detrimental to the PUD as a whole,” Commissioner Bob Jungers said. “We can’t necessarily in good conscience take on these enormous responsibilities and expect the rest of our constituency and our rate payers to pay for it.

"The way I see it personally, over a period of years of inconsistent management, the utility portion of the Town of Cathlamet has dug themselves a very deep hole. As brutal as it may seem, in all probability, the people that are going to have to dig out of this hole are the people that elected the governing bodies that created this situation over a period of 30 or 40 years.

"In other words, Cathlamet residents that think that having the PUD take over the water system and their sewer system as a financial salvation for them are being deluded, because I feel those two systems are in serious financial trouble, and that money has to be repaid from somewhere.

"It is just not reasonable to ask water customers on Puget Island and electrical customers in Grays River to bail out the Town of Cathlamet for past mismanagement. We’re not exactly chomping at the bit to go ahead with this merger. We do feel a certain social responsibility to try to help but we have to balance this with our fiduciary responsibility to the rest of the district.”

“I’ve been dealing with the town for eight months about the rates for the hotel and in doing so, it has fleshed out all of the unfairness, especially on the sewer side,” Waller said. “Their formula, the way they are charging for it, is extremely unfair to residents and enormously unfair to businesses, unless you want them to go out of business. I pay the same bill whether there is anybody in that hotel or not, because that is what their formula says to do. If we were full, I wouldn’t care, but we’re not. It’s based on potential, not use.

“I have no idea why they are managing a water and sewer system. I don’t see anybody in there that has the expertise to know how to manage that on the financial side.”

Jungers suggested that policy decisions were more important.

“Rather than trying to squeeze that much blood out of so few rocks, they need to establish policy goals that increases the participation in the sewer system in such a way that it is economically viable,” Jungers said. “They apparently neither have the will nor the desire to do that.”

Commissioner Gene Healy weighed in.

“No matter who manages the systems, the same amount of money has to be paid back by the same people,” he said. “The case, if it is ever made, is who would be in the best position over time to manage that effort. That is the part of the equation that interests me. We have a management team in the PUD and a set up to do all the billing, so that isn’t a particularly big hurdle.

"The one that bothers me a little bit is the same one that bothers Bob. They’ve got a big chunk of debt on that sewer system. Who ever has that debt has to go through credit ratings and bond ratings, potentially. At the current time, our financial status of this PUD is pretty positive. If we added on seven or eight million dollars worth of debt on top of that, it might not be such a pretty picture. It’s going to be managed by somebody. Who does that the best? I think that’s where the conversation needs to go.”

In other business, General Manager Dave Tramblie reported that the PUD had used the Automated Meter Reading technology to locate high consumption rates at three Puget Island homes. The staff used the information to alert the homeowners of potential leaks on the customer side of the meter.

On Monday, the load on the Cathlamet substation was transferred to the Wahkiakum substation, in order to de-energize and assess the Cathlamet transformer and substation for maintenance.

“We used to have to do it in the middle of the night,” Tramblie said. “Now it is a fairly simple process.”

He’s looking forward to being able to do the same thing in Grays River after the intertie with Pacific County is complete, possibly in August.

“We’ll be able to take the Grays River transformer offline and not affect our customers to determine what extent we need to upgrade and replace Grays River,” Tramblie said.

Tramblie also reported that the Bonneville Power Administration had announced they would be raising their rates about 5.5 percent.

The next PUD meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday, July 5 at 8:30 a.m., because of the July 4 holiday.


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