Grant PUD broadband workshop set for February

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Grant County PUD commissioner Dale Walker (foreground) asks a question while commissioners Bob Bernd and Tom Flint (background) listen in.

EPHRATA — Grant County PUD employees will present the findings of an in-depth review of the district’s broadband program at a workshop for commissioners in mid-February. Commissioners requested an evaluation of the broadband program, and general manager Kevin Nordt said it’s also one of the areas of emphasis in the district’s five-year strategic plan.

Nordt updated commissioners on the entire strategic plan during the regular commission meeting Tuesday.

The PUD has been working on a fiber optic network since 2008, but it hasn’t reached all areas of the county yet. Utility district officials started building wireless towers in 2015 to provide service to places where fiber hasn’t reached.

The PUD is prohibited from providing fiber to customers directly. Instead it provides wholesale service to business who sell to retail customers.

The commission workshop originally was scheduled for the week of Jan. 23, but Nordt said the employees conducting the review asked for more time to finalize their conclusions. The review is looking at the whole system, fiber and wireless, profit and expenses, and “some possible paths forward.”

Chief Financial Officer John Janney said at the Dec. 19 meeting that the goal of the study is to determine how much the broadband program really is costing, and how much it impacts electrical rates.

The strategic plan also included a review of the district’s safety program and an effort to enhance safety procedures. There was also a review of the PUD’s structure and a new business plan.

The emphasis on safety is the first priority in the plan, Nordt said. That follows an accident at Priest Rapids Dam in November 2015 that sent six PUD employees to the hospital, some with severe burns. A report issued by the PUD in February 2016 concluded management didn’t adequately enforce safety protocols, which led to inadequate safety precautions.

Nordt said PUD officials will be interviewing candidates for a safety manager and a training manager over the next few weeks. Utility district officials also created a position for a safety trainer, Nordt said, and hired a person to review and rewrite the PUD’s safety procedures and policies.

Utility district officials have also instituted new procedures designed to promote involvement by all employees, including daily safety meetings among PUD staff.

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