PUD considering system consolidation
May 7, 2020
The Wahkiakum PUD Board of Commissioners opened their meeting on Tuesday morning with a public hearing on a matter they are considering, a financial consolidation of their three systems--the Electrical System, Western Wahkiakum Water System, and Puget Island Water System.
Currently, each system has its own budget, based on the income it generates. On November 26, 2019, the commissioners approved the budgets for the 2020 year, with expected expenditures of $4,348,380 for the Electrical System, $383,925 for the PIWS, and $379,660 for the WWWS.
“The public hearing is intended to start a dialogue between the district and our customers to consider consolidating all of our individual systems into one entity,” General Manager Dave Tramblie said. “The purpose of such consolidation would be to provide debt relief to the Western Wahkiakum Water System. Those resources could then be used to support much needed capital improvement.
"It is intended to provide assistance in our ability to build a fiberoptic network; we believe this qualifies it as an essential service. We think that it may be appropriate as a county wide utility provider to use our resources to support our systems where needed, keeping in mind our mission statement to provide most reliable services at the most reasonable cost.”
Only one ratepayer was in attendance and he shared his thoughts on the matter.
“I would say no to this consolidation,” Jason Will said. “I do understand that there is a need for broadband and improved water service in the Westend, but I do not think that consolidating these and robbing Peter to pay Paul is the right mode of action. I would hope that the citizens of Wahkiakum County could get together and help fund some of those things, their own things in their areas.”
Commissioners agreed that they would like to hear from more ratepayers before they make a decision and will be welcoming written comments. They can be sent to Wahkiakum PUD, PO Box 248, Cathlamet, WA 98612 or to the commissioners’ email addresses, which are listed on the Wahkiakum PUD website.
Tramblie reported that the PUD had decided to pass on a grant application for an electric vehicle charging station, noting that the Town of Cathlamet had decided to move forward with plans for their own. Town of Cathlamet Councilman David Olson, who attended the meeting by phone, expressed gratitude to the PUD for their support and assistance in the matter.
Commissioner Dennis Reid said that there had been an interest in hotspots around the community, and that he no longer believed that the PUD needed to add one.
“I think the county is well covered,” he said.
Olson later commented that Reid’s interest in hotspots had spurred the TOC’s interest in looking into the possibility of putting in public wifi all along Main Street.
Tramblie was pleased to report that the PUD has had only two outages since February 23. He said that there was a minor leak on Waranka Road and the crew was repairing it that morning.
He said that the PUD had plans to replace about 2,500 feet of pipe on the east end of Puget Island, where East Sunny Sands Road meets East Birnie Slough Road, hoping to remove half of it this summer.
Auditor Erin Wilson said that the PUD had been working with customers who were struggling to pay their bills.
“Our past due was a little under 11 percent,” Wilson said. “The majority lies in up to 30 days past due. Only about three percent are 31 days or older.”
She noted that the PUD started the year with $266 in the Residential Energy Assistance Program. Since then, there have been $1,652 in donations, and customers have received a total of $1,043 in aid. There is currently $875 in the fund.
“There have been a lot of requests, I think,” she said, “and they are trying to stretch those dollars as far as they can. But also donations compared from this year to last year are up about 50 percent.”
According to Wilson there are more resources available through the state, including the Washington State Department of Commerce, which is helping people who qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
“It’s nice to hear donations are up for the REAP program because people need it now more than ever. A lot of low income people are out of work because of covid-19 so they are obviously going to be needing some help,” Reid said.