Port Angeles extends deadline for ‘smart meter’ settlement negotiations to Nov. 3

PORT ANGELES — The deadline for completing negotiations that would end the city’s contract for a much-debated electric utility “smart” meter program has been extended to Nov. 3.

City Council members voted 6-1 Tuesday, with Councilman Lee Whetham voting no, to extend the standstill agreement with Atlanta-based Mueller Systems so the two sides can hammer out the details of a settlement agreement over the $4.9 million project.

During regular meet

Whetham pulled the agreement extension from the council’s consent agenda, allowing it to come up for discussion during the regular meeting for about 10 minutes.

“I want this unresolved contract to immediately proceed to court,” Whetham said, noting the project was slated for completion more than a year ago.

“We should be going after their insurance carrier.”

According to a staff report from City Manager Dan McKeen and City Attorney Bill Bloor, city and Mueller representatives have developed a framework for a settlement but are still working on details.

“We are not at loggerheads on any issue,” Bloor said Wednesday in an interview.

Much discussion of the extension has been in executive session, Councilwoman Sissi Bruch said, adding that the extension “is actually a good thing.”

Councilman Dan Gase said before voting for the extension that there has been “an extremely high degree of progress” in the negotiations.

“This has been one of the most expensive issues the council has dealt with in many, many years,” he said.

Mueller, which specializes in water and electric smart meters, has billed the city $1.9 million for the project.

The city has paid $1.6 million of that for 1,200 smart water meters and 2,100 smart electric meters that have been installed on residences and businesses — but are not being used.

Bloor said Wednesday that the disposition of $1.6 million — and what the city might receive back from that amount or what additional money Mueller might receive — will be addressed in the settlement agreement.

“It’s not appropriate to discuss what the possibilities are because there are too many possibilities,” Bloor said.

Mueller has not filed any legal action on its own over the contract, he added.

Said McKeen on Wednesday: “We have been trying to settle this without going into litigation.”

Standstill pact

Council members had signed the standstill pact June 5 to resolve differences within 60 days over the city’s Dec. 21, 2010, Advanced Metering Infrastructure System agreement with Mueller.

The meters are built to wirelessly transmit data on residents’ and businesses’ water and electricity usage to City Hall and receive information from city staff.

The devices are opposed by many residents who believe the meters will compromise their privacy and are concerned over suspected negative health impacts of the electromagnetic energy employed to transmit information to and from city employees.

City staff have had technical issues with the meters.

In January, the city declared Mueller in breach of contract with the city, citing software integration problems between the city’s and Mueller’s billing software.

Mueller responded that the delays were caused by city personnel changes, city staff inaction and updates to the city’s computer software that have hobbled the project since it started in 2010.

A Mueller spokesman did not return repeated calls Wednesday for comment.

Digital meters possible

Any smart meters that would be removed as a result of the contract termination would likely be replaced with non-transmitting digital meters, Craig Fulton, director of public works and utilities, said in an earlier interview.

Digital meters could transmit usage data one-way or be read manually by city meter readers.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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