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Commission recap 5-11-2021: Commissioners want more detail about proposed facilities upgrades

Commissioners Tuesday asked staff for more information to substantiate $24.61 million needed to upgrade Grant PUD's aged service centers in Ephrata and Moses Lake. The investment is intended to make critical improvements to extend the buildings' useful lives for approximately 7 to 10 years.

Grant PUD service centers contain shops, office space and yards to store materials and vehicles. Proposed upgrades to the Ephrata Service Center total $15.5 million. Upgrades to the Moses Lake center, $9.2 million. Employees would have to relocate to temporary workspaces while much of the work was taking place.

Costs include upgrades to:

  • Heating and cooling systems, energy efficiency, fire suppression systems, roofing, siding.
  • New office space and expanded restrooms/lockers.
  • Interior remodeling to improve use of space.
  • New fencing/gates.
  • New warehouse racks and reconfigured parking areas.

Commission President Larry Schaapman and Commissionsers Tom Flint and Nelson Cox questioned whether the money would be better spent on new buildings and asked for more information on other, longer-lasting alternatives to remodeling. None of the commissioners deny that the buildings need improvement.

General Manager Kevin Nordt said staff had already studied many alternatives and would share more information with the board before the next meeting, May 25.

View the full presentation here, pages 1-13. Hear the discussion at 44:35 and 2:37:40 on the commission audio.

Commissioners also:

-- Congratulated former Grant PUD Chief Operations Officer Kevin Marshall and the Emergency Response Team (ERT) at Wanapum Dam for Northwest Public Power Association awards. Marshall won the 2021 Milton Hunt McGuire Award for excellence in engineering and operations. The ERT won the 2021 Safety Heroism Award for its quick response to a water rescue.

"This award is really a team award," Marshall told commissioners. "It just points out the great teams I've worked with throughout my career."

Urgent work at the dam prevented many of the Wanapum ERT crew members from attending Tuesday's virtual commission meeting. Mark Riggs, supervising power plant foreman, thanked the ERT and management for supporting the team's training. "It's a volunteer team. That's who these guys are," he said. "They're they guys who stop when they see a car beside the road. Thank you for the honor."

Read more about the awards here. Hear the full discussion at 29:53 on the commission audio.

-- Reviewed the first quarter of 2021's Budget versus Actuals report. Grant PUD expenditures are expected to end the year $8.6 million over the year's $295.2 million budget target. The budget variance is driven by an increase in O&M of $10.6 million with an offsetting decline in capital costs of $2.0 million. View the full presentation here, pages 14-33. Hear the discussion at 1:22:00 on the commission audio.

-- Heard from Ron Alexander, senior manager of Power Delivery Construction and Maintenance, about his team's work to make the electric and fiber-optic systems more reliable and efficient. Ongoing projects include:

  • Improvements/repairs to area feeders and other equipment to improve service for irrigators and be ready for growth happening northeast of Mattawa and elsewhere in the county.
  • Complete fiber network buildouts to two areas of Royal City, and one area each in the Ancient Lakes and Dodson Road areas.
  • Upgrades to 1,113 more power poles this year to reduce the chance of pole fires. More than 2,000 poles have been updated since last year.
  • Clearing wider swaths of vegetation from around distribution and transmission poles to prevent wildfire damage to poles and reduce the chance of the electrical system sparking wildfires.
  • Fostering an apprenticeship program, which currently includes six apprentices all from Grant County, to grow the skills the utility will need in the future among apprentices that want to stay in Grant County long term.

View the full presentation here, pages 34-47. Hear the discussion at 1:54:00 on the commission audio.

-Unanimously approved salary and personal leave pay increases for the next two years for Grant PUD General Manager Kevin Nordt and Chief Legal Officer Mitch Delabarre. Effective May 14, Nordt will receive a one-time addition of 30 days of personal leave and a 5-percent salary increase to $315,827. Delabarre will receive a one-time addition of 15 days of personal leave and a 5-percent salary increase to $280,904 per year. Starting Jan. 7, 2022 Nordt will receive another one-time addition of 30 days of personal leave and a 5% salary increase to $331,614. Delabarre will receive another one-time addition of 15 days of personal leave and a 5% salary increase to $294,944 per year.

Commissioner Larry Schaapman complimented both for their efforts in successfully supporting the mission of Grant PUD and said the adjustments bring both employees more on par with the salary of their peers from across the country. Commissioner Judy Wilson added that the adjustments are something the commission needed to do and are heading in the right direction. Learn more on pages 47-49 of the commission packet and hear the discussion at 2:32:00 of the commission audio.

-Unanimously approved a resolution amending the district's Governance Policy and superseding prior resolutions relating to the governance of Grant PUD.Pages 9-46 of the commission packet for details of the changes.

-Received an update regarding the recently completed 2021 state legislative session as well as a rundown of the federal issues Grant PUD's External Affairs group is tracking. Senior Manager of External Affairs, Andrew Munro and Senior Policy Analyst, Cliff Sears updated commissioners regarding the outcomes in Olympia regarding energy, telecom/broadband, natural resources, and other legislative issues.

Of note, the state's approved capital budget includes funding for broadband infrastructure for the Wanapum Indian Village. The village is located on the Yakima County side of Priest Rapids Dam. The combination of the $155,000 of funding and the passage of a new telecommunications bill (SB 5383), which allows a utility to provide broadband service outside of the county where the utility is currently providing electric service, will enable the village to receive fiber-optic internet service.

See the full report on pages 48-57 of staff presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 4:13:00 of the commission audio.

-Heard from Internal Audit Manager Dmitriy Turchik as he reviewed the status of the 2021 Audit Plan for the utility. There are six open audits the group is currently engaged in performing. Turchik updated the commission regarding the status of the various audits and provided an overview report of the findings from the Overtime Audit. See the entire report on pages 58-66 of staff presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 3:31:00 of the commission audio.