Electric power transformers sit in the Port Angeles public utility storage yard on Lauridsen Boulevard near the site of a proposed City Light building for electrical equipment. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Electric power transformers sit in the Port Angeles public utility storage yard on Lauridsen Boulevard near the site of a proposed City Light building for electrical equipment. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles moves toward permanent home for electrical utility

PORT ANGELES — After more than 10 years of renting space for its electric utility operations, the city of Port Angeles will construct a permanent home for its light operations.

The City Council voted 6-0 last week — with Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter excused — to approve a not-to-exceed $384,190 professional services agreement with Crow Engineering to design an estimated $5.8 million City Light building at the public works equipment storage complex near the intersection of West Lauridsen Boulevard and the Tumwater Truck Route.

The estimated cost of construction is $4.7 million with a 25 percent contingency for a total estimate of $5.8 million, city officials said.

“The numbers are extremely preliminary in nature, but we thought that we would bring as much information as we have at this time so that we have an order of magnitude of what we are looking at,” Acting Public Works and Utilities Director Shailesh Shere told the council May 21.

“We are cognizant that a dollar figure this big can mean rate impact, and people could misunderstand that this all would be a single bump in the rate,” Shere added, “but that’s not the case.”

The city has built up reserves in its electrical utility and delayed other projects to minimize the impact on ratepayers, Shere said.

“And we have not recommended adding new debt to that utility,” Council member Mike French said.

Finance Director Sarina Carrizosa said the city budgeted $2 million for the project last year and $3.8 million in 2019.

Crow Engineering of Beaverton, Ore., was the second-highest-rated of 11 firms that responded to a request for proposals, Shere said.

“Staff negotiated with the most qualified firm, but we were not able to reach consensus with the cost,” Shere said.

The former Port Angeles City Light building at 240 W. Front St. was declared surplus in 1987 for a higher and better use that complemented the downtown corridor, Shere said.

In 2007, the building was sold to Family Medicine of Port Angeles, now North Olympic Healthcare Network, for $775,000, Shere said.

The 16,967-square-foot building was appraised in 2018 for nearly $2 million, according to Clallam County Assessor’s Office records.

“We had such a tremendous shortage of physicians in the community at the time,” third-term City Council member Cherie Kidd said of the sale to the health clinic.

“People couldn’t find a doctor, or they couldn’t find a doctor that took Medicare/Medicaid. So we needed that facility. But once again, we were dislocated from the light ops and have been floating around.”

After the sale of the downtown building, City Light moved to a Port of Port Angeles-owned building near William R. Fairchild Memorial Airport.

In November 2017, the port told the city to vacate the leased site to make room for an expanding commercial business by March 31, 2018, according to city documents. The port then agreed to a two-month lease extension.

The City Council in March 2018 agreed to lease a 5-acre site owned by Atlas Trucking Co. in west Port Angeles for about $90,000 per year, Shere said.

“Although we are extremely grateful that we found Atlas Trucking in such a short time,” Shere said, “it is inadequate in space.”

The Atlas Trucking site is “cramped” and lacks operational efficiency despite five staff vacancies in the city’s electrical department, Shere said.

“The inventory currently is distributed in four different locations and cannot be consolidated,” Shere added.

“Even through the Altas Trucking property is big — five acres — there is a conditional use permit from [state] Department of Ecology that is currently in effect that does not allow us to store absolutely anything outside, including opening the hood of our cars.”

Shere said a city-owned light operations building near the Corporation Yard complex would “create a better response during outages and day-to-day services.”

“This is something that needs to happen,” Mayor Sissi Bruch said.

“I know that it’s expensive, but it is something that once it’s built, it will be ours. It will function to the best for the city.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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