Langley leaders devoted the city council meeting this week to a brainstorming session on a single topic: How to bring power to the people.
Langley, and the entire South End, has been hit with repeated and prolonged power outages in recent months. The back-to-back-to-back outages have led some to call for putting power lines underground, or finding another generator like the one that once kept Langley electrified while other parts of the South End were dark.
Mayor Neil Colburn said it was important to get the discussion going, and said talk would continue at a meeting next week when Puget Sound Energy representatives will come to talk to residents about the outages.
Colburn said his own thinking on possible solutions had changed over the past weeks.
“I jumped on and then jumped off, rather quickly, the undergrounding idea as a main transmission source of power coming down the highway,” he said.
“I’d like to see the whole community with underground facilities, but that obviously doesn’t do us any good if there’s no juice getting to them,” Colburn said.
Colburn said putting power lines underground along Highway 525 is not feasible.
“I’m not suggesting this is the final word on that. I’m just saying that a 10-foot-diameter tunnel is daunting to even perceive,” he said.
The discussion was wide-ranging.
City leaders talked about creating a South End-based public utility district, getting a generator that could supply most of Langley with power during outages, or setting up quadrants in downtown that could be served by smaller generators.
While some long-time Langley residents have been nostalgic in recent months for the large generator that once made the city a beacon of light during power outages, several city officials said the cost of getting a generator that could serve the town’s much-larger population might be financially out of reach.
Another concern: That the city would spend millions on a power fix, but find it seldom used in the years ahead.
“I don’t want to put … all of our resources down a rat hole, and simply have it sit there,” Colburn said.
The first issue, he said, was to improve the service that exists.
Installing a back-up utility in Langley would also require much administrative work, warned City Administrator Walt Blackford. The city would have to get numerous approvals — from rates and beyond — from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.
“And that’s only after we have the money for a generator,” Blackford said.
Colburn, who owns the Clover Patch Cafe in Bayview, said the impact to businesses from multiple outages was something that couldn’t be ignored.
“The big dog in the room is the fact we’ve all lost, those of us that are in brick-and-mortar (businesses) have been especially hard hit by this season. I can tell you that I’m up over $20,000 and counting in lost revenue.”
“Being out of power two weeks ago Saturday just about had me sawing at my wrists with dull implements.” Colburn said. “There’s nothing quite like watching your whole livelihood slide down the drain.”
Mary-Elizabeth Rosenberg, co-owner of Mike’s Place in Langley, agreed. She recalled the large amounts of ice cream and shrimp her restaurant had to throw out that had spoiled.
“We got so head bashed emotionally,” she said.
“What can we do? It’s a crisis, it really is,” Rosenberg said.
Beyond the talk, Langley officials are already taking action.
The council unanimously approved an ordinance postponing the due dates for business license fees as a way to help businesses hard hit by the storms and outages.
And Blackford said he had contacted local churches to find a place that could be provided with generator power during future outages.
It would be a “for-sure, warm place,” he said.
The city will examine the costs for getting a generator and the necessary electrical hookups at St. Hubert Catholic Church or the CMA Church of Langley.
“Once we determine what the cost is, then we’ll work with the community to raise the money,” Blackford said.