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Commission Summary 4-12-2022: Recreation sites prepare for another big year

The Grant PUD is gearing up for what they expect to be another record-breaking season at Grant PUD camping and recreation areas.

Manager of License Compliance and Lands Services Shannon Lowry told commissioners her team is bracing for a record 13 concerts at The Gorge Amphitheater over the summer, including six weekend-long festivals. The amphitheater's events fill Grant PUD's Columbia River campsites and recreation areas with concert crowds and revelers.

The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 both saw record-breaking visits to Grant PUD recreation areas, with year-over-year campsite visits up 20% in 2020 and another 23% in 2021.

Seasonal maintenance staff and security personnel have been hired and trained for the 2022 recreation season, Lowry said. Staff will coordinate with law enforcement, Gorge Amphitheatre personnel and community stakeholders to discuss crowd-management issues.

"Meeting with law enforcement goes a long way to ensure we are prepared," she said.

The golf course at Crescent Bar operated at a loss of nearly $317,000 in 2021. The loss will be reduced by approximately $33,000 this year, following a slate of increases to green fees and golf cart rentals, Lowry said.

The commission agreed to study golf course usage and financials over a five-year period, ending after this year's recreation season. The data will be used to determine whether the course is the best use of Grant PUD's property within the Crescent Bar Recreation Area.

Commissioner Tom Flint said he didn't oppose golf but didn't want Grant PUD ratepayers to have to cover its losses.

Commission Larry Schaapman cautioned that the course's operations costs aren't the only factor to be considered, since eliminating the course could also result in lower property appraisals and resulting in lower lease fees Grant PUD could collect from island leaseholders.

Commissioners Tuesday asked Lowry's team for an analysis of island property values with and without the golf course.

See the presentation on pages 19-32 of the presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 1:34:10 of the commission audio.

Grant PUD aims to complete fiber construction in 2024

In 2018 Grant PUD's Wholesale Fiber Group identified 40 remaining expansion areas throughout the county and established a sequence for reaching each area still awaiting a fiber connection.

Project Manager of Grant PUD's Fiber Network, Jeremy Conner, shared with commissioners that construction is now complete for 19 of the 40 remaining areas and two more areas are scheduled for completion within the next month.

Construction completion for the George area is targeted for the end of April, while the area between Hartline and Wilson Creek is slated to be done in early May. Four more areas are scheduled to have construction finished by the end of the year. In total, 354 miles of fiber-optic cable is expected to be installed this year.

Conner said that the group estimates finishing the expansion efforts for all 40 areas sometime in late 2024. Each of the remaining expansion areas is either in the design or construction phase of the project.

"It's exciting to be getting close to the end," said Commissioner Nelson Cox.

Completing the expansion won't come without challenges due to the influx of federal subsidies for broadband infrastructure resulting in supply issue delays throughout the entire industry.

According to Conner, the group is working with procurement to ensure the availability of materials for crews to adequately continue construction and avoid any substantial delays. There could be occasions when adjustments to the construction schedule have to be made due to material delays.

Senior Manager of Wholesale Fiber, Terry McKenzie added that the "take rate" of the network continues to grow. Currently, 67.2% of the county that has access to a fiber connection has subscribed to the network. This year the group has a goal to achieve a 70% take rate by the end of 2022.

For a full list of the anticipated expansion sequence and additional info regarding Grant PUD's fiber-optic network, visit www.grantpud.org/getfiber

See the presentation on pages 1-18 of the presentation materials and hear the discussion beginning at 1:00:40 of the commission audio

Commissioners also:

-- Unanimously approved a $3,013,231 contract with Open Systems International, Inc. to update the District's Energy Management System. The current system was last updated in 2009 and has exceeded its life cycle. See full details on pages 10-43 of the commission packet.

-- Unanimously approved the payment to Harris Institute of Technical Training in the amount of $86,348 for training services for a Washington state-approved apprenticeship program for the Utility's Meter/Relay Technicians. See full details on pages 52-56 of the commission packet.