Commission recap, 4/9/2024: Grant PUD agrees to buy land for new Ephrata Service Center

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Commissioners Tuesday unanimously authorized Grant PUD to purchase 34 acres from Grant County for $525,000 for a new Ephrata Service Center.

The parcel is near the Ephrata Walmart, south of State Route 282. The site is east of the old Ephrata Raceway property. Grant County has agreed to install a traffic roundabout at the nearby intersection of SR 282 and Nat Washington Way. The site was chosen over several other properties evaluated for cost, infrastructure, size, land use and constraints.

“This has been a work in progress for quite a while. I appreciate all the hard work from staff,” Commission President Tom Flint said.

The purchase is part of a long-term Facilities Master Plan to replace or upgrade various outdated Grant PUD buildings, including the Moses Lake Service Center and Ephrata Headquarters. The new center will meet Grant PUD’s needs 30 or more years into the future. Its design and location will provide better access, faster response times and more reliable customer service.

The Master Plan identifies the existing Ephrata Service Center, in downtown Ephrata, is the highest priority for replacement, in need of design upgrades to meet modern building codes, improve energy efficiency and meet or exceed modern safety standards.

The Master Plan analysis concluded that building a new center in a new location was more cost-effective than upgrading the existing center.

The new center will bring together dispersed departments that collaborate closely to provide electricity and fiber services. Crews will have adequate space to meet, receive and provide better training and improved security for tools, equipment, and other Grant PUD assets.

In August 2022, a $6.04 million preliminary capital budget to fund project initiation and planning was approved. A better estimate of the new Ephrata Service Center total project cost should be known this fall. For more information see pages 19-33 of the commission packet.  Hear a brief discussion at 2:22:54 on the commission audio .

Commissioners also:

— Unanimously approved a 10% increase to the salary range of non-union employees to stay competitive with salary ranges in effect in neighboring PUDs. General Manager and CEO Rich Wallen has said that salary data from around the region showed that the utility’s salaries were lagging, although union wages remained highly competitive. For more information see pages 8-18 of the commission packet

— Heard that Grant PUD’s Lands and Recreation team is busy getting the utility’s Columbia River recreation areas ready for the 2024 outdoor season. Security crews are in place and the utility’s seasonal workforce is undergoing training. Grant PUD operates 20 recreation areas that contain nature trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, boat launches and more on and around its reservoirs.

 A contract dive crew has identified several areas of submerged potential hazards around the Wanapum Reservoir that will be removed for safety, Shannon Lowry, manager of License Compliance and Lands Services, said. Most of these are unpermitted buoy anchors. Staff is also preparing to grade uneven gravel road entries and parking lots at several recreation areas. Learn more about Grant PUD recreation areas at 509river.org.

The Lands team is reviewing the utility’s flowage easements over private shoreline property to inspect for unauthorized structures. These flowage easements allow the PUD to submerge, overflow, and/or flood as part of its dam operations. The team will reach out to affected property owners.

View the full presentation on pages 1-15 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion at 41:20 on the commission audio.

— Heard the fiber-optic network buildout, decades in the works, is on track to be finished by mid-November. Areas yet to have fiber include Stratford/Summer Falls, Adams Road NW to Winchester, Braden to George/Black Sands, Ruff, Wilson Creek and Sagebrush Flats/Johnson Road. For more information about fiber availability, visit www.grantpud.org/getfiber.

Currently, 73% of customers who have access to Grant PUD fiber actually subscribe to the service through one of the county’s internet service providers. Terry McKenzie, manager of Wholesale Fiber, said she expected that number to grow as buildout continues to the still-unserved areas. View the full presentation on pages 16-36 of the presentation materials. Hear the discussion at 1:11:51 on the commission audio.

— Heard that Grant PUD  received a “Certificate of Excellence in Reliability” for being among the utilities with the lowest number of power outages between 2018 and 2022. The result places Grant PUD in the upper quartile of utilities that have subscribed to the American Public Power Association’s “eReliability Tracker” tool.

“We have a very long way to go to continue improving reliability,” Ron Alexander, Grant PUD director of Power Delivery, said after the commission meeting. His team’s effort to make system design changes to reduce the number and duration of outages, as well as doubling down on analysis, inspections and maintenance are driving better performance. But, he added, “This is just a start.”

Hear the discussion at 38:16 on the commission audio.

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