December, 2012

Happy New Year from The Chief Family

THE FIFTH GENERATION of the family which has owned and operated The Clatskanie Chief for the past 90 years gathered recently at a family reunion at the Clatskanie home of third generation Chief publisher and editor, Deborah Steele Hazen and her husband Phil Hazen. The house was also the home of Deborah’s grandparents, the late Art and Malvina Steele, who began the family ownership of this newspaper in 1922. These 11 children are their great, great grandchildren.

Ranging in age from 19 months to 12 years, they are also the great grandchildren of second generation Chief publisher and editor, the late Gail and Alvista (Ray) Steele. Pictured from left are: Samuel Sparks, Harrison Sparks (seated on the floor), Elsie Wehrley being held by her sister Natasha Wehrley, Elias Wehrley, Ana Wehrley (seated on the floor), Jonathan Moravec, Sophia Sparks, Henry Weisensee (seated on the floor), Owen Weisensee being held by his cousin Madeline Moravec. Samuel, Harrison and Sophia are the children of Ryan and Jenny Sparks and the grandchildren of Dayle (Steele) and Neil Christensen, all of Corvallis. Natasha, Elias, Ana and Elsie are the children of Adam and Molly Wehrley, both members of The Chief staff and Clatskanie residents. Madeline and Jonathan are the children of Amanda (Wehrley) and Michael Moravec, of Clatskanie. Amanda is also a staff member of The Chief. Owen and Henry are the children of occasional Chief contributor Erika (Wehrley) and Alex Weisensee of Milwaukie.

The Moravec, Wehrley and Weisensee children are the grandchildren of the Hazens, who are also the owners of another longtime family business in Clatskanie – Hazen Hardware. If we haven’t confused you too much already, this is our family’s way of wishing Chief readers a very happy new year. Chief Photo by Amanda Gail Moravec

State’s 2nd Largest Consumer-Owned Utility…

Clatskanie PUD 2013 Budget Set at $53.9 Million 

by Deborah Steele Hazen

A $53,952,000 operating budget for 2013, showing a net income of over $4 million, was adopted by the Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD) board of directors at its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 19.

While it may be headquartered in a small town, the Clatskanie PUD is the second largest consumer-owned utility in the state in terms of the amount of electricity sold – primarily because of its large industrial load at Georgia-Pacific’s Wauna Mill. The Clatskanie PUD has the lowest electricity prices in the state and among the lowest in the nation.

Despite planned hikes by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in its power and transmission rates to take effect next October, there is no increase to residential or general service customers in the budget. The PUD board may decide to increase rates after the exact impact of the BPA rates is known next fall.

However, since sales to Georgia-Pacific – primarily for its Wauna Mill, but also in “extended industrial” rates to G-P’s Halsey mill – comprise the bulk of the Clatskanie PUD’s sales, most of the BPA increases will be covered through the PUD’s variable rate provision for industries, according to general manager Greg Booth.


Under the operating budget and work plan for 2013, which was adopted by the board last week, the Clatskanie PUD expects a total of $47,304,000 in total retail revenues including $3,704,000 in residential, $1,398,000 in general service (commercial), $34,700,000 in industrial, $7,400,000 in extended industrial, and $102,000 in security lighting.

Less the $400,000 in benefits credited to customers on their bills from proceeds from the cogeneration facility at the Wauna Mill, net retail revenues for the year are pegged at $46,904,000.

Wholesale revenues are expected to include $200,000 in transmission resales and wheeling charges, plus $6,300,000 in secondary power sales, for a total in wholesale revenues of $6,500,000.

Also on the revenue side, the budget includes $35,000 in interest income, $25,000 in rental income, $400,000 for a contribution in aid of construction for an upgrade of power to the Port Westward industrial park dock, and $88,000 in miscellaneous other income (connection fees, etc.) for a total  “other income” of $548,000, bringing the total income for the year to $53,952,000.


On the expenditure side of the budget, the biggest cost by far is for the purchase of power, almost 80 percent of it from the BPA. Purchased power accounts for $34,000,000 of the total $49,538,000 in operating expenses for the year.

About eight percent of the Clatskanie PUD’s power comes from the Arrowrock Dam hydroelectric system in which it invested in recent years, and about 13 percent comes from the short-term wholesale power market.

The PUD also owns a natural gas-fired generator located at Wauna, and there is $44,000 in the budget for natural gas supply, transport, operation and maintenance of that facility.

Other power supply costs include $3,700,000 for transmission and ancillary services, and $1,000,000 in power operations including the power management personnel costs, contracts for dispatching and scheduling, legal, and other generation expenses associated with the operation of the cogeneration plant at the Wauna Mill, bringing total power supply costs to $38,744,000 – about 78 percent of the PUD’s total operating expenses.

Other operating expenses include $537,000 for distribution operations including mapping maintenance, $638,000 for general distribution maintenance including such items as maintenance supervision/engineering, maintenance structures, substations, overhead lines, underground lines, transformers, street lights, meters, warehousing and meter testing; $367,000 for contract tree-trimming; $120,000 for pole testing and treatment; $627,000 for customer service, billing and meter reading; $129,000 for energy service activities and electric service assistance (a net expense after reimbursements for energy efficiency incentives); $10,000 for economic development; $1,258,000 for administrative services including most management expenses, copy machine, office supplies and utilities; $100,000 in employee training; $362,000 in outside professional services such as attorney fees, consultants, engineering not specified to a capital project, web site design and governmental consultants; $127,000 in property insurance; $97,000 in the safety program including fire retardant clothing for line men; $1,414,000 in pension and benefits expenses including PERS (public employee retirement system) and medical/dental health insurance premiums not assigned to capital projects; $70,000 in advertising including various items, of which local newspaper advertising is only a small percentage;  $28,000 in general expenses including auditor’s cost and arbitrage analysis; $82,000 in board wages and travel; $108,000 in memberships in various organizations including the Northwest Public Power Association, the American Public Power Association, etc.; $42,000 in maintenance for the old and new headquarters; $2,980,000 in depreciation; $849,000 in taxes including property taxes, social security, unemployment tax and the Oregon Department of Energy Assessment; $69,000 in the amortization of the acquisition of the Rainier system, and $780,000 in interest on debt, for total operating expenses of $49,538,000.

The difference between projected revenues and expenses shows $4,414,000 of net income for the year.

Included in the costs is keeping employment at its current level of 39 persons, not counting temporary and college interns. The budget allows for a 1.75 percent increase for both union and non-union staff members, plus step increases as outlined in contracts and policies.

Bucket Truck Purchase Approved

Also at last week’s meeting the board approved the purchase of a new bucket truck for $312,434, which is part of the approved budget.

Operations and engineering director Don Smith and board member Bob Wiggins discussed the fact that the only bidder for the truck was Terex Utilities because it was the only company able to meet the specification for double cyclinders for lifting the boom.

BPA Proposes Additional Land Purchases to Convert Habitat

by Adam J. Wehrley 

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is proposing to fund the purchase of approximately 41 acres of farm land between Goble and Deer Island to be converted to fish and wildlife habitat, adjacent to the 920 acre Columbia Stock Ranch property, which the BPA purchased for $5.3 million earlier this year to convert to fish and wildlife habitat.

Should the purchase be completed, the Columbia Land Trust will own and manage the property for fish and wildlife conservation purposes and the BPA would receive a conservation easement to ensure that the property is permanently set aside. The Columbia Land Trust will provide long-term management of the land and will develop a plan to guide the protection and enhancement of habitat and other resources on the property.

According to BPA reports, this land purchase would serve as partial mitigation for long-existing hydroelectric dams on the mainstems of the Columbia and Snake rivers. It also satisfies some of BPA’s mitigation requirements for the lower Columbia River as identified in National Marine Fisheries Service guidelines for the protection of salmon and steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The funding would be provided as part of the BPA’s ongoing efforts to protect, mitigate and enhance habitat for fish and wildlife species in the Columbia River estuary including coho and chinook salmon, steelhead, Columbia white-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk and river otter.

Columbia Land Trust will provide the opportunity for the public to review and comment on the draft plan. The plan must receive the BPA’s approval before it is implemented.

The management actions could include restoring estuary wetlands, floodplains and side channels to their historic condition, controlling invasive plants and planting native vegetation. Environmental reviews will be preformed prior to specific habitat restoration activities.

Regarding the BPA’s longterm mitigation plans and whether this purchase was tied to a specific project or operation, Kevin Wingert of the BPA said, “Mitigation within the Lower Columbia River Estuary for the construction and operation of the dams on the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers is not tied to a specific acreage amount. Instead, mitigation is measured in survival benefit units for salmon and steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. These benefits can be gained through a spectrum of actions, alone or operating together, that may increase the survivability of the species.”

Questions regarding this land purchase should be addressed to project manager, Jason Karnezis, at 503 230-3098, 800 622-4519 or Please refer to the “Tide Creek Land Acquisition.”

Columbia River PUD Board Approves 2013 Budget

The Columbia River People’s Utility District (PUD) board of directors approved a $33.2 million operating and capital budget for 2013 at its Dec. 18th meeting.

The 2013 budget is 0.8 percent higher than the approved 2012 budget, but controllable expenses, which exclude power costs, depreciation, taxes and equipment, are 7.2 percent below 2012 budget levels.

The Columbia River PUD, based in Deer Island, sets its annual operating budget through a process that involves the board, staff, and a customer budget advisory committee. The committee, which met twice in November to provide input on the proposed budget and activities for the upcoming year, includes representatives from the PUD’s residential, commercial and industrial customer classes, along with low-income and senior advocates.

“I look at our budget committee as the eyes and ears of our customer base,” said PUD board president Loren Tarbell. “I appreciate their willingness to help us stay focused on the right things.”

Four Percent Increase Planned for October

The Columbia River PUD will draw from cash reserves that were set aside for rate stabilization and implement an overall four percent rate increase next October to accommodate a wholesale power cost increase that will be implemented by Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) on Oct. 1.

The Columbia River PUD’s only other rate increase in the last 11 years was also a four percent increase, which was implemented in October 2011. That increase was also a result of rising wholesale power costs. When BPA implements its new wholesale rates in October 2013, the PUD will be paying nearly 24 percent more for wholesale power than it was in 2009. Power costs make up 50 percent of the PUD’s 2013 budget.

When the PUD completed a five-year cost of service analysis in 2011, Columbia River PUD staff projected that BPA would raise wholesale power costs by 6.5 percent in October 2013. BPA recently published its preliminary rate case, which includes a 7.1 percent power cost increase for the PUD.

“BPA’s preliminary announcement was very close to what we projected,” said Columbia River PUD general manager Kevin Owens. “If their final increase is similar to what they announced, we expect to enact a four percent rate increase on Oct. 1 and then hold rates steady through September 2015.”

The Columbia River PUD’s residential rates are currently 38 percent lower than those charged by Portland General Electric, which previously served customers in the rural Rainier, St. Helens and Scappoose area now served by the PUD. The lower rate saves residential customers an average of $573 each per year, and has saved residential customers nearly $59 million since the PUD began operations in 1984.

No Additional Debt Planned

The Columbia River PUD will fund all 2013 operations, including capital improvements, system maintenance, tree-trimming, energy efficiency programs, and customer service functions, through electric rates and cash reserves. The board does not plan to issue any long-term debt during 2013, and expects to pay off its existing $8.3 million in long-term debt in 2020.

“We operate in a fiscally conservative manner,” said Tarbell. “We don’t borrow money for daily operations or system improvements. We save up and plan our projects when we can afford to pay for them without borrowing. This keeps costs lower for all PUD customers.

Staffing Levels to Remain Steady

The Columbia River PUD plans to hold staffing levels steady in 2013. It has 54.5 budgeted positions, with four positions currently unfilled. It is planned to fill three of these positions in 2013.

“Our staff operates at a very high level of competency and efficiency,” said Owens. “That, coupled with our use of technology, allows us to meet customer needs with fewer employees, which keeps costs lower for our customers.”

The Columbia River PUD has invested heavily in technology to help streamline operations and improve customer service. During 2012, it outsourced its bill printing and began upgrading its digital mapping system to facilitate system improvement work.

Capital Improvements Planned

System improvements, equipment and construction  totaling $2.8 million are planned in 2013. The purchase of two bucket trucks and continued construction of the new fairgrounds substation in St. Helens area are the largest capital expenditures planned for the year.

The staff and board will also evaluate the Columbia River PUD’s headquarters facility during the first quarter of 2013 to determine the best way to accommodate the need for additional office space, meeting facilities and training facilities.

The construction of the new fairgrounds substation is part of an eight-year capital investment plan to add capacity and replace aging infrastructure within the PUD’s service area. In 2011, the PUD replaced a 54-year-old transformer at the Scappoose substation with a new, larger transformer that will accommodate growth in the area and provide an alternate source of power for customers served by neighboring substations.

Similar upgrades are planned for transformers at Rose Hill substation in 2015 and St. Helens substation in 2017. These projects will be paid for through electric revenues and cash reserves, without additional borrowing, a Columbia River PUD press release stated.

The PUD also plans to spend $855,000 on tree trimming in 2013. The PUD trims trees and removes trees growing near the power lines on a three-year cycle. In 2013, the Columbia River PUD’s contract tree trimming crews will be working primarily in the Rainier area.

“We’ve had a lot of success in reducing outages through our tree trimming efforts,” said Owens. “It’s particularly valuable in the heavily forested parts of our service area.”

Operating Revenues Expected to Rise Slightly 

Overall operating revenues are projected at $28.4 million. The Columbia River PUD’s operating revenues peaked in 2008 and then declined during 2009 and 2010 as a result of the economic recession and the closure of several local businesses.

After recovering somewhat in 2011, in 2012 the PUD’s largest single customer experienced an extended, scheduled outage that curtailed their energy use by nearly 10 million kilowatt-hours. Revenues in 2013 are projected to be 2.3 percent below 2008 levels, and 2.4 percent above 2011 levels.

Cash Reserves Projected at $9.25 Million

The 2013 budget includes a projected decrease of $1.47 million to cash reserves. However, the projected 2013 year-end cash balance of $9.25 million is adequate to provide contingency funds for rate stability, long-term capital construction projects, storm response and strategic capital investments and opportunities.

The Columbia River PUD provides electric service to 18,600 customers in Columbia and Multnomah counties.

Tree Blocks Highway

A slide, approximately six miles west of Clatskanie, sent a large tree across Highway 30 and caused a pickup to crash at about 6 p.m. on Christmas day, Dec. 25.

Clatskanie police and fire district crews were first on the scene and reported a pickup on its top and the highway blocked. One person was transported to St. John Medical Center. No further information was available by Chief presstime.

A Tree Falls in the City

HIGH WINDS AND HEAVY RAIN brought a neighbor’s tree through a fence and onto a garage roof sometime late Wednesday night (Dec. 19) or early Thursday morning (Dec. 20) on South Nehalem Street. Elsie Reed reported that she had seen the tree swaying heavily Wednesday afternoon and discovered it fallen the next morning. The trunk of the tree smashed a cyclone fence, but the upper branches did not appear to have damaged the adjacent garage.

Chief Photo by Adam J. Wehrley 

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