Chelan PUD is dealing with concerns over its plan to shut off power in certain areas during high fire danger periods. 

The PUD held three community drop-in sessions last month in Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Entiat to educate customers on the plan, and was met with heavy concerns from residents in the Entiat area. 

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PUD Commissioners were given an update on the community outreach efforts at their last board meeting, where the drop-in sessions were discussed. 

Chelan PUD Systems Operation Manager Chris McDarment says the lack of cell phone coverage up the Entiat River is a major issue. 

"That's a concern, whether it's a fire safety outage or any other outage situation," said McDarment. "If they don't have their land lines, they don't have that communication ability. So, it's something that we're trying to help work on with them." 

The idea of supplying residents west of Entiat with emergency phones has been mentioned within the PUD. 

The Plain and Lake Wenatchee areas have been part of a power shut pilot program since 2021, although the option has never been used. The plan is now being expanded countywide.

The drop-in session in Entiat drew a much larger crowd than the other two meetings – 106 versus 35 in Leavenworth and 12 in Wenatchee. 

McDarment says it’s normal for the public to have reservations about a new procedure. 

“Some of these people are hearing about this program for the first time because it hasn’t impacted them previously,” McDarment said. “And it’s natural, I think, for them to have a lot of questions and concerns about it for sure.” 

 

Some of the concerns raised were from people with medical conditions who need electricity for health care. 

Commissioner Kelly Allen noted during the board meeting that a member of the medical community spoke up at the Entiat drop-in session, saying that power could be interrupted for numerous other reasons in addition to the power shut off plan, and that those people needed to make special arrangements for themselves. 

Questions were also raised at the Entiat meeting about why consultants with expert knowledge of the plan were not in attendance. McDarment said numerous utilities across the state have asked for those consultants to assist them with customers, and there was no possibility of getting them to the Entiat drop-in session. 

Commissioner Garry Arseneault said people in the Squilchuck area did not express concerns about the power shut off plan, and that the Cascadia Conservation District and the Firewise USA program had been active in advising Squilchuck area residents about wildfire risks and management. 

Arseneault suggested it might be wise to see if the two organizations could advise residents throughout the county about wildfire mitigation efforts. 

Commissioner Allen suggested the public safety power shutoff plan could serve to help keep residents' property insurance affordable if the county communicated to insurance companies'  the safety aspects of the program. 

Property and fire insurance in high fire danger areas of Chelan Couty have doubled and tripled in recent months, and some residents have had their insurance coverage cancelled 

McDarment said Chelan PUD staff met with nine fire districts and fire chiefs and received supportive response for the power shut off plan. 

Emails and postcards were sent to about 9,000 people, with a 60% email open rate, and 30 responses through emails and phone calls. 

The key concerns expressed among residents were of availability of water during an outage, the lack of cell phone coverage during outages in some areas, and the need for back-up generation, especially for medically vulnerable populations and water systems. 

Next steps being taken by the PUD over the safety power shut off plan are as follows:  

  • Collecting and reviewing community feedback and considering ways to help address concerns 
  • Reviewing communication connectivity and exploring options in Entiat area 
  • Recruiting for Wildfire Program Manager position (new) – Summer 2024 
  • Planning for additional community outreach in Fall 2024 
  • Submit Wildfire Mitigation Plan to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources – Fall 2024 
  • Ongoing wildfire mitigation planning work will be informed by customer-owner feedback 

LOOK: The most extreme temperatures in the history of every state

Stacker consulted 2021 data from the NOAA's State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC) to illustrate the hottest and coldest temperatures ever recorded in each state. Each slide also reveals the all-time highest 24-hour precipitation record and all-time highest 24-hour snowfall.

Keep reading to find out individual state records in alphabetical order.

Gallery Credit: Anuradha Varanasi

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