The Chronicle • May 1,2013 •
Utility rate hike proposed By Jennifer Marshall The Chronicle OKANOGAN – When confronted with a recommendation to raise rates by 13 percent this year and next, Okanogan County Public Utility District commissioners asked for more options. Commissioners heard the recommendation during an April 23 workshop, based on a new equity management plan and rate study presented by SAIC Energy, contractor Environment & Infrastructure, LLC. The equity management plan projects the utility’s finances over the next 10 years compared with its capital project needs. “I think we were all kind of shocked,” Commissioner Steve Houston said. “A double digit (increase), that’s territory that no one wants to go into.” The utility approved a total 19.5 percent rate increase in 2010 that was scheduled to be phased in over the next three years. The third and final increase of 6.5 percent was implemented in July. But more revenue will be needed to pay for capital projects totaling $102.4 million through 2022, according to SAIC’s report. Those projects include Enloe Dam – the utility anticipates a cost of about $35.2 million from this year through 2016 – as well as $17.3 million for transmission, $9.8 million for substations, $24.8 million for replacements and additions, and $15.3 for other assorted projects, according to the report. “There are some that are driven by need, some that are driven by timing, and some that are cast in stone, like what we’ve spent on Enloe (Dam) this year… and moving forward with our FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license, we don’t have any choice,” Houston said. The board pushes back what projects it can, he said, but anything else had to be built into the plan. Enloe’s $35.2 million is expected to be covered with bond proceeds of $64.2 million, with the first payments to begin next year; the other $29 million will go toward general capital improvements. The utility also has about $7.3 million in unspent bond proceeds this year. SAIC estimated about two-thirds of the projects will be funded through bonds. If the utility approves a 13 percent increase this year, $4.7 million would be generated to cover the total operating costs of $48.3 million, according to SAIC. Another chart shows about 39 percent more revenue needed in irrigation to meet the cost of service, while residential needs 17 percent more. “Due to significant decline in wholesale revenues and moderate retail sales growth, (the) district faces significant need for revenue increases in 2013 and 2014,” the report states. “Unless the wholesale revenue outlook changes significantly, (the) district has few options other than retail rate increases.” News of the proposed rate
Seizure from 1A seize property without the owner’s consent. However, the resolution notes that the utility will continue negotiating with SFI in the hopes of getting the easement without resorting to eminent domain. Easements have been granted from the other six landowners in the area, but the utility still needed a distribution, transmission and fiber easement from SFI to stretch part of the 3.5-mile long distribution line across about 2,000 feet of undeveloped land, according to utility General Manager John Grubich. The line is needed so the Tacoma-based Northwest Open Access Network – more commonly known as NoaNet – can complete its broadband expansion project from the Aeneas substation through Tonasket, Construction Design Manager Allen Allie said. The utility had a June deadline to work on the distribution line. NoaNet wants to add fiberoptic Internet to the line, but first the utility needs to move the line and upgrade it. The current distribution line runs through the bed of the creek
Douglas County gets pay raises The Chronicle EAST WENATCHEE – Seventy-five Douglas County Public Utility District employees will see a boost in their salaries on May 1. Commissioners approved the raises during the April 22 board meeting for employees that work in the technical, professional and administrative departments, spokeswoman Meaghan Vibbert said. The raises were already built into the distribution system and Wells Project budgets for this year, Vibbert said, and account for “responsibility changes, job growth and performance.” About $90,000 will be spent from the $46 million distribution system budget, and about $107,000 will go toward employees assigned to the Wells Project, which has a budget of $51.3 million, Vibbert said. The salary adjustments are based on the 2 percent Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union employees also received raises on April 1 – 3 percent for craft positions and 1.5 percent for non-craft positions, Vibbert said. increases spurred some strong words from PUD Action Committee member and Crumbacher resident Dan Isaac, who has been vocal in his criticisms of the utility in recent years. “They’re in such financial straits because of their overspending on this Enloe Dam project and their implementation of the fiberoptics line and the smart meters, they have overextended themselves financially and what they are doing is going back to the cash cow, the public,” he said. “The Okanogan Valley doesn‘t have that great a tax base. We are a poor working environment here.” To potentially mitigate the hit to the wallet for the utility’s more than 15,000 customers, SAIC put forth three alternative scenarios: • Reduce capital improvements by 30 percent over the next 10 years, with the exception of Enloe Dam funding, and cut the $29 million in bonds earmarked for general capital improvements to $7 million. Utility rates would still increase by 13 percent this year and next, with 2 percent increases in 2016 and 2017. • Take on more debt in order to reduce the impact of rate increases. Increase the general capital debt from $29 million to $34 million and take on an additional $25.5 million over 2015, 2018 and 2020. The utility could then lower rate increases to 7.5 percent this year, followed by 6.5 percent in 20142016 and 5.5 percent in 2017. • Take on $26.5 million in debt in 2016 and 2017, then implement rate increases of 7.5 percent this year, 6 percent next year and 4.5 percent in 2015-2017. In all three alternate scenarios, the revenues would fall short of what the utility would bring in by following the original recommendation. and is “in dire need of repair,” Allie said. During negotiations, the utility had offered to pay about $5 per foot for the transmission portion of the easement, something the utility doesn’t ordinarily pay for, Allie said. When SFI refused that offer, the utility asked for underground distribution and fiber easements, giving SFI an option of two different routes. Three-phase power and fiber-optic Internet access was thrown into the deal for SFI, but that plan was also rejected, Allie said. NoaNet offered $10,000 to SFI for the fiber easement, but SFI declined that as well. SFI’s concern, Allie said, was not being able to sell the property. The company did come back with another route for the easement, but that would have been four times the length of the utility’s suggestions, Allie said. The rough terrain also wouldn’t have allowed an underground easement. After about six months of unsuccessful negotiating, Grubich sent a letter March 27 to SFI stating that the commissioners would consider condemnation of the property if no response was received by April 23.
Attack from 1A had been badly mutilated by its attacker. White contacted his neighbor, Todd Maltais, to help put a tarp over the carcass to keep the scavenger birds away, then contacted state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Okanogan Sheriff’s Office. According to White, Fish and Wildlife officers Cal Treser and Jason Day and biologists Scott Fitkin and Scott Becker investigated the property for about six hours. On Monday, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released its determination that the killing was from a coyote, based on evidence that included a blood trail and coyote scat, said Matt Monda, wildlife program manager. The calf-killing comes less than a year after the May 19, 2012, wolf depredation of a calf owned by Carlton ranchers Bernard and Dianne Thurlow. That calf was killed by a wolf in the Lookout Pack, which makes its home in the Methow Valley. The Lookout Pack is one of several that live in the North Cascades, including the Teanaway Pack east of Cle Elum, the Wenatchee Pack south of Wenatchee and the Hozomeen Pack in the remote wilderness area along the Canadian Border. All told, there are currently 14 packs in the state. In addition to the aforementioned packs, the others are the Walla Walla, Strawberry, Smackout, Salmo, Ruby Creek, Huckleberry,
Rule from 1A animal and human safety as justification for the emergency rule. “The gray wolf population is expanding quickly in the state; there have been recent and escalating reports of wolf attacks on pets and livestock; and the lambing and calving season is here and we anticipate additional attacks as livestock move onto open range,” the commission’s statement read. But there are a few catches. First, the emergency rule applies only to areas of Washington where the wolf is not listed with the federal Endangered Species Act – namely, the eastern one-third of the state. Boundaries are east of state Route 97 from the Canadian border to Highway 17, east of Highway 17 to state Route 395, and east of state Route 395 to the Oregon border. In addition, anyone who kills a wolf must report it to the state Fish and Wildlife Department within 24 hours, and be prepared to hand over the carcass and make their property accessible to an investigation. Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman said the rule has his agency’s support. However, he is concerned about a lack of definition for the term “attack.” “What does that mean, you know? Looking at it (the animal) angrily?” he said. “To somebody in a tense situation, it might look like an attack was imminent, but frequently, that behavior is not followed by an attack. We think that definition needs to be tightened up so that it isn’t a loophole that allows for abuse.” In general, Conservation Northwest has been working with legislators to reach a compromise for “caught in the act” legislation, Friedman said. “There’s a lot of wolves in northeast Washington. If other parts of the state had as many wolves as northeast Washington did, the wolves would be by definition recovered and no longer a protective species,” he said. “We’re trying to find ways to maintain protections that are fitting with the vulnerabilities of wolves in each particular part of the state, and help people feel more comfortable with the presence of wolves where they do become more abundant.” One wolf bill is on the governor’s desk, waiting to be signed into law. Senate Bill 5193 will bump the cost of a personalized endangered wildlife license plate from $40 to $52, with a charge of $42 for each license renewal. Costs for the personalized “Washington’s wildlife collection” and “Wild on Washington” plates will also increase for any licenses that expire on or after Oct. 1. Funds from the license plates will go to the state wildlife account, and $10 of that will be funneled into a newly created wolf-livestock account to spend on wolf management efforts, according to the bill. The money could also go to ranchers who claim livestock injury and loss, though the Department of Fish and
Nc’icn, Diamond and Boulder Creek. Monda said with so much discussion about wolves lately, it’s natural for people to assume that any depredation is by a wolf. Maltais and White both pointed out that the calf’s ribs were chewed away and that about 40 pounds of the calf had been consumed. “When a wolf kills, they’ll eat the bones and everything,” Maltais said. “I’ve seen a lot of these wolf kills and when you see how they ate the ribs and the amount that they ate, it’s no doubt that it is a wolf. There’s nothing else. With the evidence on the ground, I would bet everything I owned that it’s a wolf.” White said coyotes don’t normally start gnawing on the bones until there’s nothing left of the carcass. Last week’s attack occurred just a few miles from where one of John Stevie’s dogs was attacked by a wolf on March 10. In that case, Stevie’s eye-witness testimony, coupled with the wolf tracks in the area and the injuries sustained by the dog, were enough for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to classify it as a “verified” wolf attack. “It appears to me they’re trying not to lean toward not accusing the wolf of doing anything unless they have 100 percent proof,” White said. White said it’s not up to him to determine what kind of animal attacked the calf, but “everybody I see says it’s pretty
Wildlife is prohibited from spending more than $50,000 per year for those claims. The House approved Bill 5193 on April 25, 96-2. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. DeTro, Kennedy and fellow Commissioner Ray Campbell have publicly expressed frustration over the Legislature’s reluctance to act on several bills introduced during the regular session that began in January and ended on Sunday. “It’s a tough battle, it really is,” DeTro said. “I call it the Disneyland syndrome – they only see one side of it, they don’t see the effect of these wolves killing livestock and ruining people’s livelihoods. “If they actually would witness some of this stuff and realize that it’s people’s health and safety and welfare, and that’s what we as commissioners are sworn to protect.” While they wait for the commission to address a permanent rule, the quad county commissioners – comprised of those in Okanogan, Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties – have another meeting scheduled for this Friday in Stevens County to discuss wolves, among other things. The Fish and Wildlife Commission established the emergency rule following a conference call to discuss a letter endorsed by 10 legislators, including Reps. Joel Kretz and Shelly Short and Sen. John Smith. “This came down to a matter of preserving the health, safety and welfare of our residents,” Kretz, R-Wauconda, said. “I don’t anticipate this change will have a negative effect on the recovery of wolves, but it was absolutely necessary, especially as grazing season begins and because we know that non-lethal methods do not always work.” Smith, R-Colville, introduced Senate Bill 5187 in January, which also called for allowing livestock owners to kill a wolf without a permit and regardless of classification. Bill 5187 has been revived and sent back to the Senate Rules Committee for a third hearing. It had passed by a paper-thin margin on March 8 in the Senate, 25-23, and was stalled for more than a month in the House Natural Resources Committee. Legislators had considered adding Bill 5187 as an amendment to 5193, Kretz said, but there was too much push back from Democrats. The Fish and Wildlife Committee felt they could “basically do 5187 in rulemaking,” he said. When they learned the process would take until October, the idea for the emergency rule came in. “I’d like to have it in statute, but this is the best we could do,” Kretz said. “I’m delighted that the funding has passed for conflict avoidance measures, and Conservation Northwest is heavily invested in that sort of work,” Friedman said of Bill 5193. “We’re tripling this year the number of projects we’re going to be directly involved in to help ranchers keep cattle and wolves coexisting, and we think this is the key to moving forward. I’m thankful to the legislators for getting it done.”
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This calf carcass was found last week by owner Bill White. clear to them,” he said. “If it was a coyote, it was a huge one.” White said he has about 50 more cows on his property and some of them are still fairly young. “As long as they stay together, I think I’m pretty safe,” he said. “But when they go off by themselves to have a calf, then you’re looking for trouble.” Wolf attacks on cattle have become more frequent over the last year as the predators’ population grows.
Last September, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife assigned marksmen to helicopters to cull the Wedge Pack after wolves killed at least 17 cows on the Diamond M ranch in northern Stevens County. Eight wolves in that pack were killed. In April of 2012, White pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to take an endangered species, conspiracy to export endangered species and unlawful importation of wildlife.
Kennedy gave kudos to the quad county commissioners, as well as residents who have been impacted by reported wolf attacks, for testifying on the proposed bills. “The Stevies making the trip to Olympia to show the wolf attack on their dog showed how real this situation is for all of us,” she said, referring to a Twisp family’s Siberian huskywolf mix that was injured in March. The commissioners also plan to continue working on the state’s wolf management plan and stay involved with the Wolf Stakeholders Committee, Kennedy said.
“We all need to stay active and anyone that has pictures of wolves, reports or issues need to continue to report them to WDFW and also our wolf tracking form on our county website that our planning department developed as we move through this summer and fall to prepare for next year’s Legislative session,” Kennedy said. “This is just the beginning,” DeTro said. Okanogan County’s nonemergency wolf reporting form can be found at www.okanogancounty.org/pla nning/wolf/wolf.html.