Dam remains focal point

— As the Okanogan County Public Utility District prepares for several public hearings on the proposed $61.7 million 2014 budget, development of Enloe Dam is still a sticking point.

One local resident appeared Sept. 24 at the utility’s first budget hearing to question the utility’s continued funding of the project.

“We see on the proposed 2014 budget that you are requesting $5.4 million,” Paul Stenshoel of Loomis said. “What is that for?”

General Manager John Grubich said the amount is part of what the utility must spend on the licensing process through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The agency issued a 50-year license to the utility July 9, but since then it has been wrapped up in an appeal by conservation groups claiming that FERC violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it didn’t consider the environmental and economic impacts of the minimum required flow of Similkameen Falls.

Stenshoel said a federal fish agency has offered to remove the dam and clean up the contamination, but Grubich said the utility hasn’t received any such offers.

“Since this is a public utility district, what you want and what the public wants should be the same in regards to the fish agency’s offer,” Stenshoel said.

“The commission has not been approached by anyone with an offer to assume any responsibility for the removal of the dam…. I’ve talked to several agencies that think it would be a great idea, but nobody’s offered to do anything,” Commissioner Ernest Bolz said.

He and Grubich asked Stenshoel to bring them the details of the federal agency’s offer.

Bolz also requested a more detailed breakdown of how the $5.4 million will be spent.

The commission will host several public hearings through the next two months, with a deadline of Dec. 31 to pass the budget.

The next hearing will be at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the utility’s headquarters, 1331 N. Second Ave. The following two will be at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 – so far, the only two evening meetings scheduled. At least one of those meetings will include explanations from each department head.

Under the most recent draft of the budget, the utility expects to take in about $50.1 million in revenue, while spending a total of $61.8 million. Expenditures are broken down to about $43.9 million on operations, $14.1 million on capital projects and $3.8 million on debt repayment.

To help bridge the $11.7 million gap, about $1.6 million will be transferred from reserves, and another $1.1 million will come from the rate stabilization fund. The rest will be covered by taking on more debt, according to Don Coppock, director of finance, accounting and administration.

Compared to the budget adopted for 2013, revenues will be nearly $3.9 million higher. From retail electric sales, the utility will see an estimated $3.6 million increase next year, to $42.5 million. The utility approved a 9.5 percent rate increase for customers that went into effect Sept. 1.

Wholesale electric sales will also increase by $475,000, due to higher estimated market pricing than last year, according to the utility’s budget overview. The utility expects to receive about $3.39 million less in revenue from broadband sales.

In capital projects, the utility has also budgeted $3 million for the Pateros-to-Twisp transmission line and substation, $1.7 million for routine replacements and line extensions, $750,000 to replace a line truck and warehouse truck, and other various replacements and projects.

The utility plans to spend about $150,000 less on power in 2014, a total estimate of $23.2 million. Purchased power is the utility’s biggest expense in operations, but Coppock said the utility will buy less from Bonneville Power Administration, which upped its rates effective Oct. 1 by 9 percent for wholesale power and 11 percent for average transmission rates.

The utility will also cut expenses in the electric system budget to the tune of nearly $305,000 in advertising, conservation, miscellaneous contractual services, maintenance contracts, rents and leases, small tools, and postage and stationery.

Expenses are also going up in wages and benefits by about $420,000, with three more employees than last year and an average wage increase of 0.6 percent for unionized workers, Coppock said.

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