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County commissioners map public utility district boundaries

COUPEVILLE — A proposed Whidbey public utility district was moved closer to voters Monday by Island County commissioners.

At a public hearing in Coupeville, commissioners determined boundaries, set up three PUD commissioner districts and directed the county auditor to put the measure on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

“We’re on,” said David Metheny, campaign coordinator for “People for Yes on Whidbey PUD,” which wants to snatch power, literally, from Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy on the island. Metheny thanked commissioners for moving quickly.

Commissioners directed both sides of the issue to craft statements to be included in a mini voter’s pamphlet that will be mailed before the election. Those statements must be in by Aug. 29.

“People for Yes on Whidbey PUD” wants to buy out PSE’s system on the island and run it locally. PSE is conducting an analysis of its assets, and is expected to determine a price later this month. PSE officials said last week the price would be more than $77 million.

At the hearing, Bob Kuehn of Clinton, treasurer of the local group, questioned whether there was an imbalance in the drawing of the districts. He said the northern two comprise the bulk of the island’s urban and commercial areas, perhaps leaving district 3 to the south at a disadvantage.

County Commissioner John Dean said the district boundaries were drawn according to population, about 19,000 each, based on the 2000 census. He said that although the “business end” of the island is to the north, “it’s better to have balanced population” in commission districts, based on his own experience.

Dean said he has found that in commission work “it doesn’t really matter which district you represent.”

County commissioner Mac McDowell agreed with Kuehn that his question was legitimate, and wondered if the commissioners should take more time.

But Metheny agreed with Dean and Commissioner Phil Bakke, that the most important thing was to get on the November ballot.

“I feel more comfortable moving this forward,” Dean said.

Bakke agreed

“If we delay this, we could get into a lot of hot water,” he said.

Meanwhile, Metheny said at least three people are interested in becoming PUD commissioners, and more may surface. The filing period is Aug. 13-15 at the county elections office in Coupeville.

Metheny said those interested so far include Pat Harmon, of Oak Harbor, who spent seven years as a public power commissioner in Anchorage, Alaska; David Ott, of the Glendale area of Clinton, a weatherization specialist who works with regional utilities; and Dan Schlangen, also of Clinton.

PSE, the state’s largest electric and natural gas utility, has about 34,000 customers on Whidbey.

“People for Yes on Whidbey PUD” said earlier that the purchase of PSE assets would be done with 30-year bonds.

Metheny said an engineering and feasibility study would be ordered after the election to determine how much money would be required, and how it could be obtained.

“There are lots of ways you can do it,” he said, adding that the important thing is local control.

He said that while island electricity prices probably wouldn’t go down in the short run, studies have shown that if you “take profit out of the equation,” rates will go down eventually.

Roy Jacobson can be reached at 221-5300 or rjacobson@southwhidbeyrecord.com

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