By Marcy Stamper
Incumbent Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioner David Womack is seeking a third six-year term. He is being challenged by Scott Verjaska.
David Womack said the most important issue the PUD commissioners have dealt with during his 12 years on the board is the Pateros-Twisp transmission line, which he hopes will be resolved in the near future.
A challenge by the Washington Department of Natural Resources to the PUD’s efforts to condemn state land for the powerline is currently before the state Supreme Court, but if the court rules in the PUD’s favor, Womack said the PUD would move ahead with design and construction and hearings to determine the valuation of state property the PUD wants to condemn.
The fact that the Carlton Complex Fire burned not only the PUD’s Loup Loup transmission line but also much of the land the Pateros-Twisp route would cross does not make Womack believe the route needs to be reconsidered, nor raise concerns about access for maintenance. In fact, repairs and maintenance in the lower Methow Valley will probably be easier because many trees burned, and having two lines would enable the utility to make quicker repairs in the event of another disaster, he said.
The other large capital project the board has been focusing on is whether to restart Enloe Dam near Oroville, which has not produced power for more than 50 years. “I believe reenergizing Enloe would be the lowest cost to the ratepayers, versus removing the dam,” said Womack.
The other major upcoming focus is renegotiating the PUD’s contract for power from Wells Dam, said Womack. The PUD has a memorandum of understanding with the dam operators that would provide an additional 22 percent of the dam’s output to the PUD. If the terms of a deal could be worked out favorably, it could have the most significant long-term effect on stabilizing electricity rates, said Womack.
Womack expressed concern that his opponent, Scott Verjaska, who works as a lineman for Nespelem Valley Electric Cooperative, would have a conflict of interest if elected as a PUD commissioner. Verjaska would have to recuse himself from any matters related to labor negotiations, limiting his ability to provide input on financial matters handled by the board, said Womack.
Womack has been the manager of the meat department at Gene’s Harvest Foods in Okanogan for 33 years. Before being elected as PUD commissioner, he served for 15 years on the Omak City Council and was a volunteer firefighter for Omak for 27 years.
As a cattle rancher who uses a lot of power for irrigation and as a lineman for Nespelem Valley Electric Cooperative, Scott Verjaska believes he has a particular understanding of issues affecting electric ratepayers.
His work as a lineman means that he knows the day-to-day operations of an electric utility and issues involved with replacement of poles or transformers, said Verjaska, “I know what the industry is going towards, the technical things and what works in the field,” Verjaska said. He said this knowledge could help save money by encouraging the PUD to acquire rebuilt equipment or more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Verjaska’s main focus is to find ways to avoid rate increases through stricter control of the PUD’s own costs. Verjaska would also like to see more money spent locally for labor and supplies.
Verjaska believes that a transmission line from Pateros to Twisp is vital to keep the Methow Valley’s economy going, but that if the state Supreme Court does not rule in the PUD’s favor, the utility will have to find another route. Verjaska would also like to see upgrades to other aging parts of the PUD’s power grid.
Verjaska is concerned that the PUD has not been spending money wisely, such as building an expensive new headquarters building. He wants to explore “creative financing” to keep the PUD’s budget in check. “It’s no different than your personal checkbook — you spend on things that need to be done, but wait until you have the money for others,” he said.
Verjaska is concerned about moving forward on Enloe Dam without a partner, but said the PUD has spent so much money on the project that “they have dug a hole so deep they can’t get out of it.”
He is interested in renegotiating a favorable contract for Wells Dam, hoping it would enable the PUD to offset costs by selling surplus power on the wholesale market.
Verjaska would also like to see the PUD use regular radio broadcasts to involve and inform the public more.
Verjaska is a third-generation cattle rancher and has worked as a lineman for Nespelem Valley Electric for 16 years. He would continue his job as a lineman and use vacation time for meetings and other PUD obligations, he said.
Verjaska also serves on the board of directors of the Cattle Producers of Washington.