PUD ponders truck replacement, supports Snake dam protection
July 7, 2022
The Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to join Northwest RiverPartners, received an update on Wahkiakum West’s expansion project, and discussed fleet issues in a conversation about long term planning.
Ken Johnson of Wahkiakum West started the meeting with an update on their project to expand broadband to the east side of the county along SR 4.
Dense rock west of Skamokawa, personnel issues, and “rusty” aerial design skills slowed the project, leaving them about two months behind schedule, Johnson said. Nevertheless, he was pleased to share that they had conduit in the ground, conduit he expected would be there for a generation or more.
“We overcame all those things, so even though we are 60 days past where we wanted to be, as of today, we have along SR 4, all the strand and the fiber up on the poles and ready to go,” Johnson said.
There are a couple more things they need to do, but Johnson hopes that they will begin to install service to homes soon in the Skamokawa area and Alger Creek.
Meanwhile, WW continues to work on permitting for Middle and East Valley Roads and along SR 4 from Cathlamet to the Cowlitz County line.
“I wanted to thank Noanet for their flexibility in allowing this to have a more elegant design,” Johnson said, “because without access to their network assets, this would be much more difficult to come all the way from KM, and make it financially otherwise burdensome.”
He told the PUD that WW had almost 100 customers awaiting service.
“We are excited to have all of Wahkiakum County built out with an option for a fiber optic high speed service, quite likely, by the end of the year,” Johnson said.
“I’m glad to see it happening, I’m glad we could be a small part of making it happen,” Commissioner Dennis Reid replied.
General Manager Dan Kay addressed long term planning. He said the PUD was considering the positions that were likely to come open soon with retirements and were revising or building job descriptions.
He also spoke about the fleet. The PUD put in an order for a small bucket truck in March of 2021. Because of supply issues, they are still waiting for it. Meanwhile, the engine in the small bucket truck they have now needs to be replaced, and will cost $18,000.
“We do believe it is a critical asset,” Kay said. “We use it a lot.”
With the new truck still a year out, the PUD assessed their options, from doing nothing to leasing a vehicle, which Kay said would cost thousands of dollars every week. The PUD decided their best option was to replace the engine.
And now they must consider replacing their digger derrick.
Vehicle life expectancy is about 15 years, Kay told the board, and their existing digger derrick is 19 years old.
With supply issues as they are, the receipt of the digger derrick might be a few years out, and Kay wondered if it might be a good idea to set that in motion now.
Commissioners believed it would be.
Kay talked about contract negotiations with Bonneville Power Administration and working with the Public Power Council.
“Bonneville does up to 20 year contracts,” he said. “There is a lot of moving pieces that are going to affect us long term from now. System size, allocation, how big is the pie going to be? How big is our piece going to be? Getting more discussion from small utilities like ourselves keep us and our interests in mind. I think other members of PPC are being respectful of that.”
“I have to thank Commissioner [Gene] Healy for being active in the group and asking very good questions so that PPC has us moving forward as our liaison to Bonneville, capturing a lot of our thoughts,” Kay continued.
Kay said that the power supply was 35-40 percent of the PUD’s budget.
“This is something to be paying attention to,” he added.
He told the board that the crews had been busy with new customer hook ups and a project on Covered Bridge Road.
After Kay's report, commissioners approved the PUD’s membership with Northwest RiverPartners.
“There will be some people upset with our joining,” Reid said, “but as a board, we need to look at what is best for the utility and best for our rate payers, and by joining this organization we are just getting our word out that we are not involved in any decision making or anything. It seems to me that we need to do this.”
“It’s to level the playing field a little bit and have the side of maintaining the dams heard equally so we can all be more informed,” Healy said. “Why am I here on this commission? On the power side, we are here to provide reliable and as inexpensive power as we can get.
"I suppose that somewhere in the mix is fish mitigation and so forth, but that’s not my primary role here. There are plenty of people working on fish enhancement and improvements and it’s just one part of the equation. That’s why I was willing to make a motion for this. It’s a little better story being told, more complete.”
Healy added that removal of the dams could have a “staggering hit on our rates, and it will come right down to Wahkiakum County. Our interest in this is not just passing. It’s one of the most important things we are going to do around here in the next number of years. What ultimately happens is that we see that we protect our rate structure as much as we can through these storms."
“To clarify for our constituents, Northwest River Partners is basically a lobbying and educational institution that adamantly opposes the removal of the Snake River Dams,” Commissioner Bob Jungers said. “The fact that we have made this motion is to indicate our strong support for their policy or their intent to leave the Snake River dams in place. We believe that is in the best interest of our constituents.”
In other action, Jungers agreed to sign a letter requested by the PPC that spoke in opposition to a “sweetheart deal” between Blue Wolf and BPA.
Kay explained that Blue Wolf was trying to restart an old Alcoa plant in Ferndale using an old Alcoa contract that had been canceled in 2019, adding that the letters would be mailed to state and federal congressional delegations, the governor, and the Department of Energy secretary.
Commissioners approved travel for Auditor Erin Wilson to attend an annual Finance Officers Association conference in Tacoma in September.