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Whidbey PUD proposal may come back before voters

Supporters of a Whidbey Island-based electric company will try to get a proposal for forming a public utility district on the ballot in 2010.

Ed Jenkins, one of the original organizers of the Whidbey PUD effort, said Thursday he would help lead a new effort to create a local power company. Voters rejected the idea in November, with 66 percent saying “no” to the idea of a new power company that would take over Puget Sound Energy’s territory on Whidbey.

“The problem that we faced the last time, of course, was too little time. We rushed into this thing,” Jenkins said.

Puget Sound Energy is the largest power company in the state and has more than a million customers in Washington, with approximately 34,000 on Whidbey Island. The company spent more than $277,000 to defeat the Whidbey PUD measure in November.

Jenkins said the previous pro-PUD group did not have enough manpower to run a successful campaign. He vowed to bring in “a fresh new group of diverse individuals from the entire island.”

The last campaign also had several high-profile stumbles before Election Day. There was a widely publicized split in the group, when Jenkins left after news broke that Dave Metheny, head of “People for Yes on Whidbey PUD,” was being secretly paid for working on the campaign by the Washington Association of Public Utility Districts, a trade organization that represents the interests of PUDs throughout the state.

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, the state agency that serves as a watchdog on campaign financing, later announced it would investigate the allegation that public facilities had been used to support a ballot measure.

Jenkins said Metheny would not play a part in the new campaign.

“Dave Metheny will absolutely not be welcome because of the shenanigans, because of the lying, and the whole deal,” Jenkins said.

He also said help was not expected from the Washington Association of Public Utility Districts.

“There’s nothing they can provide us at this point,” he said.

“I want no money from any outside group like that,” Jenkins added. “There should be no strings attached.”

He said there was little effort to raise money for the campaign from the community, and fundraising was largely limited to putting out a few jars for donations at meetings held by the pro-PUD group.

“That’s where we all fell apart,” he said.

The new group will recruit candidates to run as PUD commissioners who will promise not to raise taxes beyond what’s needed for a feasibility study unless there is a public vote on the tax increase.

Jenkins also said he will organize local focus groups to talk about a Whidbey PUD in January, and wants to meet with chambers of commerce and other groups to share information about the positive economic impacts of a local PUD.

“I feel very strongly that given the right approach and the right information, that the business community is going to rally behind this. The average ratepayer is going to see the advantages, too,” he said.

A new petition drive may be needed to get the proposal back on the ballot. Jenkins said he expects the PUD education effort to stretch for roughly nine months before the petition process begins again.

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