At that time State Route 105 running out of Raymond west to the coast and north into Aberdeen, was non-existent, but people still required power to the northwest corner of Pacific County. County Public Utility Departments were put in place and absorbed the local independent power suppliers of the time.
By sheer proximity and the initial growth of county run PUD’s, it made sense that Grays Harbor PUD, via annexation, would supply power to that part of Pacific County that includes Tokeland. As early as the 1940’s, discussion between Grays Harbor and Pacific County PUD’s, focused on the eventuality that Pacific County should and would someday abide by the first resolution that Pacific County PUD passed in 1937, “That the corporate limits of the Public Utility District No. 2 shall include all of the territory within the boundaries of Pacific County.” That day may well be here.
Though no official request has been forwarded to Grays Harbor PUD to schedule an estimated disconnection of the current power supply line servicing the 1,100 – 1,500 customers in the northern most point of Willapa Harbor, both sides have been moving forward toward a viable solution.
“We still provide power to the residents and have been maintaining the lines and performing upgrades as needed,” said Wes Gray, Grays Harbor PUD Chief of Operations.
“Discussions have picked-up over the last 10 years on this issue.”
For years residents and businesses in the area have complained about the reliability of service. In the modern age of convenience, electricity is just a light switch away, and people do not give it another thought, until its not there. With computers, microwaves, televisions and home lighting and heating, electricity has become an expected way of life much like indoor plumbing.
At the Oct. 1, Pacific County PUD Commissioners meeting, a group called the “Concerned PUD #2 Rate Payers” put the commission on notice, during the public session, by officially reading a letter that they have retained the services of Harrison-Benis LLP to represent them in the matter of extending power to the Tokeland and Grayland areas. Dick Shelton, one of the members of the Concerned PUD #2 Rate Payers Committee, read the letter during the meeting. (Please see full letter in separate story below.)
Depending on where you stand, or live, the completion of current Pacific County PUD projects in the Tokeland/Grayland area is projected to create a reliable and redundant power-system. The addition of a power sub-station and additional transmission lines to incorporate the businesses and residents of Tokeland and surrounding areas currently serviced by Grays Harbor PUD, estimated by Pacific County PUD at $16-18 million dollars.
“I was surprised when I saw the estimates that you quoted in the “Question on the Street?” article in the last Willapa Harbor Herald”, said Doug Miller, Pacific County PUD General Manager.
“Our estimates come from previous type builds, industry standards, talking with other PUD’s performing similar work, and includes many projects that include providing service to Tokeland. There is also an inflation percentage projected in the estimate,” added Miller.
In the Oct. 2 issue of the Willapa Harbor Herald, a “Question on the Street” in part asked if people were aware of the project of which three respondents, out of four, had no idea the project was going on.
So what is it that Pacific County PUD is looking to do?
“Follow our initial resolution in providing reliable power at a low rate for all Pacific County residents,” said Miller.
An annexation, like the current service provided to the Tokeland area by Grays Harbor, is not uncommon in the PUD arena. Grays Harbor has similar areas in Jefferson, Lewis and Mason Counties.
“For us at Grays Harbor PUD, it will be an estimated loss of 1,1000 customers. But if the project is completed, both counties will benefit with a possible back up or redundant source in the near future. This will help of if any one experiences a catastrophic failure,” said Gray.
Currently several systems across the nation have a singular point of failure. Having the ability to dispatch a lineman, who only needs to throw a few switches to restore power during a failure, would be a win-win for both counties.
Pacific County residents asked for and were granted an open forum discussion which was recently completed and gave the public three separate opportunities to voice their concerns through a third party facilitator.
Out of those forums service reliability, cost, concerns about Grays Harbor and Pacific County PUD’s conflict of proposed and on going projects, and lack of transparency of day-to-day business, rose to the top of the list.
“I have been in the business for 35 years. This is just normal daily business for me,” said Miller speaking on the point of expanding, configuring and running power systems.
“Lately, with all the discussions and the public concern, it is not normal operations.”
Several individuals have voiced specific concerns on both sides of the PUD issue. Those who are adamant about the way Pacific County is conducting business, and those who are looking forward to finally having a say in who supplies them power.
One additional issue the area in question has is the fact that under the current service provided, residents have no formal way to use either PUD commission.
“The residents up in the Tokeland area do have an issue in that they do not have a say when addressing the Pacific County Commission, because they are Grays Harbor customers, and they can not vote in Grays Harbor commission issues because they are Pacific County residents,” said Gray.
“We understand that the people have concerns, and that is why if we provide the power, they will have a voice and can vote,” said Miller.
In general the people who live in the area seem somewhat split on the issue, depending on which meeting you attend. For some, having Grays Harbor power has always been a way of life for them, while others see a need for change.
For customers of Pacific County PUD, they see a possible rise in rates and a boondoggle project for a piece of the county that already has established power.
“A lot of people really do not understand how a PUD works. We made improvements down in Naselle, but the rates did not increase, and the people in Raymond did not benefit from that. I do not see how this is any different,” said Miller.
“For those concerned that rates will increase based on the current project to provide power to the residents out in the Tokeland area, all I can say is that if Bonneville does not increase rates, they will not see a rate increase,” said Miller
Pacific County PUD just recently made a rate adjustment of 3 percent, as of Oct. 1, but it was specifically because Bonneville did increase their supply cost.
“As of this year, we will be debt free at Pacific County PUD. It is my understanding that other PUD’s like Grays Harbor are still working under debt,” said Miller
“The current rates that Pacific County PUD customers pay are some of the lowest in the state, and I do not see a rate increase in the near future.”
While Pacific County PUD speaks of no-rate increases and making improvements, continuity and improved performance for both Pacific and Grays Harbor Utilities, some residents have joined up to try and stop the steam roll of power and have formed a committee.
Another issue residents have, is the lack of transparency about the projects to push power to an already energized area. The basic “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” argument.
While the Willapa Harbor Herald has yet to make a formal Public Records request to Pacific County PUD about the many projects in question that compose the current Tokeland service, one resident has.
Ron Craig of South Bend, has asked several times for documentation about the PUD’s current projects into that area, and has come back with nothing but disappointment and frustration.
“I have asked for their engineering requirements, the engineering drawings, alternatives and reliability reports, I have received nothing,” said Craig.
The letter to Pacific County PUD ends with their formal request;” We request that no actions be taken to proceed with the physical implementation of this project, including purchasing bonds or other financial instruments until this power extension project can be carefully considered by the voters and commissioners of each affected PUD.”
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