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The rise of the PUD, and the perils it faces

In 1984, the Columbia River People’s Utility District started delivering power to residents in Columbia County who lived in the rural areas surrounding Scappoose, St. Helens, Columbia City and Rainier.

PHOTO COURESTY COLUMBIA RIVER PUD - Darrel Purkerson The PUD served about 6,000 customers who were represented by five board members.The duties of the board included setting policy, overseeing management and helping to improve service. Rates were much less than what the investor-owned utility Portland General Electric charged to those who lived in the cities.

Petitions were circulated in 1998 to annex the cities into the PUD. PGE contested the process and filed complaints against the election, trying to stop the process, but on the third try the voters passed the measure to join public power. Rainier voted to join the Clatskanie PUD. Another reason for passing the measure was that PGE had planned to sell their service territory to West Oregon Electric of Vernonia.

A new board member from District 4 was elected in 2012 to start serving his term in 2013. This was a positive action in bringing a new, younger individual onto the board. The new board member was an ex-employee who had worked at the PUD. Evidently, there had been a conflict between the new board member and PUD management, and he had gone to work for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers after leaving the PUD. This board member began recruiting friends and a family member to seek board positions at the PUD. An employee at the PUD was running these campaigns.

Two new board members were elected to the board in 2014. It appears they were recruited by the board member from District 4. This resulted in a block of three directors who could control the management and micro-manage the utility.

The attorney for the PUD could not work with the group and the general manager decided to retire after working with the new board members. The general manager could see what was going to happen, so he approved a policy to protect the threatened management team. The board has had four general managers within a short time — one retired, two were fired, and an ex-employee was hired to oversee the PUD.

Four department managers have been fired and numerous lawsuits have been filed against the PUD. Not all of the new employees are qualified for their positions. The PUD has lost its primary insurance carrier due to actions by the block of three. Evidently, two of the board members tell the third board member how to vote and decisions are decided by the three before board meetings are held. One of the block of three makes the motion, another seconds the motion and they call for a vote without board discussion.

This is why there is a group of concerned customers proceeding with a recall process. You need to have a $32 million dollar business with 19,000 customers managed in a sensible way. You can not operate with board members who have a personal agenda and are not working for your, the customers, best interest.

We need your support to restore the CRPUD. No other utility has gone through what our PUD has experienced.

You can make donations to Restore Our PUD, 225 N. River St., St. Helens,OR, 97051, or to 55696 Viewcrest Place, Warren, OR, 97053. Include your email address so we can send you a electronic receipt, or we can mail you a receipt if you do not have an email address.

If you live in District 2 and are a registered voter, please sign the petition.

The problems will continue if not corrected. Any donations left over will be given to the Glow Program at the PUD.

Restore our PUD.