Protest, petition urges Port Angeles to stop ‘smart’ meter project
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Linda Crane of Port Angeles holds up a sign against the deployment of “smart” meters during an informational protest outside Port Angeles City Hall. — Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Some 20 to 30 people protested installation of wireless “smart” meters in Port Angeles homes before the City Council was given a petition said to have been signed by 342 residents opposed to having the meters on their homes.

Judi Hangartner, organizer of a group called Smart Awareness, presented the petition to the council Tuesday.

“We insist that you eliminate the smart meter program entirely and come up with a better plan, and ask you to do your due diligence,” Hangartner told council members.

During an hourlong protest outside City Hall before the meeting, opponents braved spitting rain to carry plastic-covered signs saying “No smart meters.”

Hangartner presented the petition during the public comment period with about 30 fellow opponents watching from the audience, each applauding for the seven people who rose to speak against the meters.

Council members took no action nor discussed the matter during Tuesday’s meeting.

City resident Priscilla Schloss told council members she wanted them to do their “sworn duty” to protect the city by reconsidering the meters.

“Please consider taking a one-year moratorium on the installation of these meters,” she said.

Hangartner said in an earlier interview that she and others had spent the past few weeks collecting petition signatures from residents around the city.

Opponents of the $4.9 million system, which has been delayed by software problems by at least a year and a half, say the meters violate citizens’ right to privacy and pose dangers to human health through the wireless signals they use to transmit data.

Between 60 and 70 people attended a September council meeting to oppose the project.

City officials have maintained that the devices will collect only utility usage data, as current analog meters do, and pose no greater risk to human health through their wireless signals than cellphones do.

Among those addressing council members was Virginia Leinart.

She and her husband, Tom, have installed a wooden box over their home’s analog electrical meter to prevent the installation of a smart meter by the city.

“Please stand with us against dangerous and lawless smart meters,” she said to the council.

Leinart also had addressed council members March 4 after she was told by city staff that her power could be shut off if the box were not removed.

Leinart said Wednesday her power remains on and that the box is still there.

The city has requested that the wooden box be removed, Public Works and Utilities Director Craig Fulton said, to ensure the meter can be removed quickly during an emergency and for the safety of city employees who may need to access the meter.

Fulton said Wednesday he wants the city’s electrical inspector to meet with the Leinarts in person this week to address their concerns, adding that the couple have been assured their meter will not be replaced without direct communications from the city.

“We’d like to resolve this in a equitable manner, and I feel that a meeting would be the next step to get a better understanding between our points of view,” Fulton said.

Leinart said Wednesday she would prefer not to meet with city staff in person on this issue.

“It’s always wise when dealing with government to get everything in writing,” Leinart said.

“I have no personal animosity toward anyone at City Hall,” she added.

“This is just an overall caution I would always [take] when [dealing with] a government official for any reason.”

Under a contract with Atlanta-based Mueller Systems, 2,080 smart electricity meters and 1,200 smart water meters have been installed on residences and businesses across the city.

All are still being read manually.

In tests, the meters have failed to consistently send accurate usage data from the meters to city servers, according to a report presented in February by West Monroe Partners, a consultant the city hired to evaluate the system.

The report detailed significant changes Mueller should make to complete the project, saying the shortcomings had placed the effort in “imminent failure.”

The city declared Mueller in breach of contract in January and has since been in communication with Mueller via conference calls about how to move forward, Fulton said.

“They’re looking to complete the system,” he said.

Both the Clallam County Public Utility District — which serves all areas in the county, including Sequim and Forks, that are outside Port Angeles — and the Jefferson County PUD have electricity meters that can be read via radio signals, but they cannot receive information from public utility staff and so aren’t smart meters.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 19. 2014 7:07PM
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