Clallam Public Utility District OKs membership dues after debate

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Public Utility District commissioners have approved membership dues after debating annual payments to Northwest RiverPartners and the county’s Economic Development Council.

District commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to include Northwest RiverPartners in a list of organizations the PUD supports.

Commissioner Jim Waddell voted no.

“It’s a waste of money for ratepayers,” Waddell said in a virtual meeting.

Northwest RiverPartners — which includes farmers, utilities, ports and businesses — promotes hydropower and has argued against the removal of the four lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based nonprofit billed Clallam County PUD $28,919 for annual dues, including $12,394 for digital media.

Waddell, who has advocated for dam removal, said Northwest RiverPartners “cherry picked” information from a Bonneville Power Administration report to make an invalid case about the effects of water temperatures on declining salmon runs in the lower Snake River.

“They should be off this list, if we’re going to vote on the whole list,” said Waddell, a retired U.S. Army Corps civil engineer who founded DamSense (www.damsense.org).

The list of organizations the PUD is supporting this year includes the Washington Public Utility District Association ($92,182 in annual dues), Northwest Public Power Association ($30,000), Washington Public Agencies Group ($27,000), American Public Power Association ($25,000), North Peninsula Building Association ($625) and the Sequim ($595), Port Angeles ($372) and Forks ($100) chambers of commerce.

After a robust debate, commissioners Will Purser, Rick Paschall and Waddell voted to approve the payments with a revised $10,000 amount for the Clallam County Economic Development Council, or EDC. The nonprofit EDC works to support local businesses.

Purser, a 20-year commissioner and current board president, said the EDC’s $20,000 funding request was “quite a jump from what we’ve done in the past.”

The EDC received $10,000 from the PUD last year and no funding from the district from 2017 to 2019.

“Also, back some years ago, we concluded that we had to get some tangible product from the EDC for us to legally be able to contribute,” Purser said.

PUD General Manager Doug Nass said the EDC had provided valuable demographic information and was “doing more than they’ve done historically.”

Waddell said EDC Executive Director Colleen McAleer had been “very instrumental” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EDC helped Clallam County officials distribute $45,200 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to PUD customers who were experiencing a financial hardship.

District Finance Manager-Treasurer said the EDC’s scope of work includes business recruitment, business retention, business expansion, business assistance, readiness and capacity building.

“I think we all agree that the EDC and Colleen’s doing a great job, but I’m concerned about the auditor,” Purser said.

“We need to make sure there’s a line-of-sight benefit to the PUD, and we need to document that in some fashion. I’m not opposed to participating in EDC by any means, but we just have to do it prudently.”

Waddell used the same argument to question the direct benefit from annual memberships to the building association and three chambers of commerce.

“What’s the link there?” Waddell asked.

Paschall said he was concerned about the increased payment to the EDC and suggested $10,000 as a compromise.

“What if it was $15,000?” Waddell said.

“Too much,” Paschall said.

“What about $12,000?,” Purser said, adding: “We’re in a bidding war here.”

“I’d go with $10,000,” Paschall said.

In other PUD business, Purser was re-appointed as president of the commission and Paschall was appointed as vice president.

Waddell, who became secretary by default, voted no.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

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