PUD talks fire danger and PFAs


August 17, 2023

The Wahkiakum County PUD Board of Commissioners discussed recent fires and what that means to utilities, learned about PFAs and continued efforts by staff to find funding for projects around the county.

Commissioner Bob Jungers spoke about the fires on Maui and how there is now concern that Hawaiian utilities’ negligence in maintaining infrastructure may have contributed to the cause.

“This reflects on stuff we’ve seen in eastern Washington counties, where liability by utilities can extend in unforeseen ways,” he said. “Bottom line is I should be thanking that tree trimming crew out there.”

General Manager Dan Kay thanked Jungers for supporting the project. He later said the tree trimming crew had completed their work on SR 4 and were now working along Elochoman Valley Road.

“They’ve done a beautiful job,” he said.

“I think what it’s coming to, anytime there is going to be a heat advisory and high winds, you’re supposed to shut the power off,” Commissioner Dennis Reid said, addressing the liability concerns.

Public power safety shut off is a last resort for utilities, Kay said, but tree trimming is vital.

“You’re darned if you do, you’re darned if you don’t,” Reid said. “If you shut the power off, people are going to be mad, if you don’t shut it off, the fire could get started. They’re going to be mad at you any way you go. Luckily we don’t have any high wind with our high temperatures.”

The Washington State Department of Health is requiring testing for PFAs, which are man made chemicals used in stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick consumer products. The PUD submitted water samples from the Skamokawa and Western Wahkiakum Water Systems, and recent results show they are undetectable in those systems.

“We’re in the clear until 2025,” Kay said.

The Town of Cathlamet, which owns the water source that provides water to Cathlamet and the surrounding areas, including Puget Island, is still awaiting their results, he added.

While the news was good, Kay suggested they continue to stay up to date on the matter.

Kay said he, Auditor Erin Wilson, Counsel Tim Hanigan, and Commissioner Gene Healy attended the Cathlamet Town Council meeting on August 7 to seek support for a water feasibility study that will look at combining their two systems. Kay said there was spoken support and a grant application would be submitted this week. He expected to learn if they will be awarded a grant in September or October.

They are seeking $50,000 to do the feasibility study, with a focus on cost of service.

A call came in last week from Governor Inslee’s office, Kay said, wanting to continue discussions about the project to find a secondary water source on Puget Island. Kay said they discussed how to participate in the capital appropriations budget process, The PUD will send a letter to the Office of Financial Management by mid-September.

They were advised to do it this year, he said.

“We’re looking for all sources to help fund this project. It was really exciting when the governor’s office called,” Kay said.

Crews have had a productive summer, which has included adding some new customers. Kay said electric crews are doing cross country work in the Westend, and are finding that accessing a system installed 50 years ago can be somewhat challenging.

An action item was tabled for the next meeting after a matter in a resolution adopting a water contract with the Town of Cathlamet needed clarification.


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