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Make Wwp Settle Accounts And Get Its Act Together

The way Washington Water Power Co. handled Ice Storm ‘96 is unacceptable. There is no good reason for people living in a city this size to go for more than three days without power.

I see two reasons why this has happened: One, WWP didn’t have an adequate disaster plan; and two, WWP seems more concerned about stockholders and bottom line financial figures than about the paying citizen.

Executives and board members of WWP should be held responsible and accountable. In the Nov. 26 Spokesman-Review story, “Regulators to evaluate WWP’s performance,” we’re told how Puget Power & Light Co. had to evaluate its lack of information and slow response to power-related emergencies. These companies should be figuring out ways to prevent or handle problems before they come up, not during or after there is a situation. That’s what the CEO is getting paid the big bucks for.

I do not blame WWP for the ice storm. I blame it for its inability to deal with the storm’s consequences. Those of us who finally have our power back on must not become complacent.

Look at how this has affected us.

We, the paying customers, have had the financial burden of heating homes with alternative sources and replacing food that rotted in our refrigerators. Those of us who can’t afford generators, wood, a hotel room and eating out are forced to leave our homes and stay in shelters. We all, particularly the elderly, have been put at risk.

We fear having our homes broken into due to lack of working security systems and lighting. City and county law enforcement officers, already strained, had to work harder patrolling areas without power to prevent possible looting.

There were also the days of frustration caused by WWP’s inability or unwillingness to tell people what areas its crews were working in. We felt guilty because line crews had been dangerously overworked since the first day of the ice storm - a situation that likely played a part in one person’s death and one that created the possibility of mistakes that could’ve added to our difficulties.

We ought to demand an explanation as to why WWP didn’t have an adequate disaster plan in a metropolitan area that has large trees, wind storms (remember the firestorm?) and the possibility of heavy snow and ice storms. WWP clearly should have saturated the area with tree crews to clear away trees and limbs to prevent further damage to our power lines.

We need to know why the Emergency Broadcast System was not activated to give people important information, such as where to find wood, batteries, candles and other such necessities to aid survival in these circumstances. (Mike Fitzsimmons at KXLY Radio did a great job. But then came the Apple Cup and our information source was gone).

WWP should respond by creating a plan to be implemented immediately should this area sustain a similar disaster. This plan should be publicized and made available for people’s comments, including their judgments as to its acceptability.

An important part of this plan would be for WWP to keep its operators informed so they could tell people if a line crew is in or coming to their area. We would have found this information invaluable for estimating how much wood to buy at any given time.

WWP should be held accountable for inaction, especially after the firestorm and now the ice storm (both caused by trees hitting its power lines) by devoting a percentage of its profits to burying its power lines. WWP should do this block by block, until the whole city is done. During this line-burying project, WWP rate increases should be limited and based on the economy and inflation.

If the company fails to comply in these remedies, it should be the target of a class-action suit seeking reimbursement for people’s storm-related expenses, such as loss of wages, alternative heating, food and medical expenses.

We need a strong city leader, one who will stand up for us and follow through to make sure we will not have to suffer further.

Bill Gates said one of the things he fears for his company is complacency, because if complacent, Microsoft might slip. Complacency is exactly what brought WWP and this city to their knees. The powers that be at WWP had better start thinking about the community’s needs and about its ability to meet them.


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