PUD studies grant offer for broadband project
November 5, 2020
On Tuesday, the Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners learned that they did not receive the award they hoped for from the Washington Public Works Board to fund infrastructure for broadband on the east side of the county.
“The PUD put in an application for a $5.5 million project with the Public Works Board in order to obtain funding under severely distressed model with the goal of getting a 90 percent grant with a 10 percent loan,” Chris Walker of Noanet told commissioners. “Unfortunately, that was not the result that we experienced.”
Noanet has been helping the PUD with their project, from surveying the community to determine interest and need, to designing the infrastructure plans, and now as the PUD seeks funding.
Initially, the PUD’s plan was to provide infrastructure to 1,700 homes, but because of the potential $10 million price tag, the PUD decided to tackle the project in parts, and focus first on getting service to 1,000 homes.
The Public Works Board offered the PUD a grant of $809,084, with a loan of $4,108,298 to complete the first phase of the project, according to the PWB website.
“It would be incredibly challenging to participate in it as it is currently designed,” Walker said, explaining that the loan would have to be paid back in 15 years, at what he estimated would be $24,000 a month.
Walker gave the PUD several options to consider while they give some thought to whether or not they will accept the award.
“We need Public Works Board to be a better participant in our project financially,” Walker said. “A debt service has never encouraged rural broadband...most organizations that build do not build off debt service.”
The PUD is expected to make a decision at their next meeting.
General Manager Dave Tramblie gave an update on the Skamokawa water expansion project. The contractor had filled the pipe in the Steamboat Slough area, he said, and a sample was taken. They are awaiting results and will move forward with pressure testing and getting customers connected this week. He also said that letters were sent to customers to alert them of the PUD’s intent to start chlorinating the water.
Tramblie shared some of his thoughts on how the PUD might begin a project to bring water to residents west of the Deep River bridge.
He went over several details including contracting a water engineering firm to evaluate the need for a lift pump station near the end of Salmon Creek Road in order to push water uphill along SR 4, and obtaining right of way permits and electrical service from Pacific County and Pacific PUD, as well as state right of way permits for the installation of pipe.
“I think we need to move forward on it, those people have been asking for water for the last quarter century I guess,” Commissioner Dennis Reid said. “As a public utility we should be trying our best to get water to them. If we can do everything in house, maybe we can make some good progress.”
Commissioner Gene Healy had questions about the demand in Deep River.
“How many really want it?” he asked. “I think we need to know precisely what our potential customer base is.”
Commissioners opened and closed a budget hearing without any comment from the public.
“There have been no changes to the budget since we reviewed it last,” Auditor Erin Wilson said. “There are no rate increases built into the budget.”
In other news, PUD staff are expected to receive about $28,500 in FEMA dollars for storm damage in late January-early February, Wilson said. Reid suggested the board consider a two percent cost of living increase for the general manager and commissioners approved travel for Wilson who will attend a meeting at Skamania PUD with other finance officers later this month.
The meeting was closed for an executive session to discuss potential litigation.