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Letters to the Editor

 


To the Editor:

The April 11, 2013 issue of the Wrangell Sentinel contains a quote by me regarding the need for Thomas Bay General Manager qualifications that have been interpreted by some to cast a negative opinion of SEAPA. In the clarity of hindsight, I certainly wish I had phrased my statement differently as that was not my intent. When going into the process of filling the vacant General Manager’s position there was some discussion as to the qualifications that the Commission deemed necessary to move Thomas Bay Power Authority forward and to establish credibility within the communities it serves as well as with the project owner, SEAPA. The Commission agreed to a list of qualifications and then moved forward with the hiring process. That the need for these qualifications should come into question later took me by surprise.

Electricity, especially high voltage, is a dangerous and technical medium in which to work. As the O&M contractor tasked with the day to day operations of Tyee Lake Hydro, it is imperative in my opinion that the staff and crew at Thomas Bay Power Authority retain the highest levels of qualification possible, both for the safety of the crew and the integrity of the facility. I feel that as long as Thomas Bay Power Authority is going to serve as the O&M contractor for this facility, the staff and crew need the ability and knowledge, in the absence of outside support, to work safely and independently on the tasks at hand. The knowledge base is also fundamental in coordinating with outside entities and with the technical staff of SEAPA. The technical ability and expertise to cross check each other’s work ensures that work is done safely and effectively.

Also key to the credibility of this establishment is getting away from the practice of hiring from within the Commission to fill vacant positions. The last three General Managers all served on the TBPA Commission just prior to being hired to fill that job. I feel this sets a very dangerous precedent, giving the impression of cronyism and that we are somehow a “Good Old Boy’s Club” that passes over qualified staff and/or outside applicants in favor of hiring one of our own. It is my opinion that hiring from within the Commission should only take place after all efforts to meet the required credentials have been exhausted in-house or publicly and only then on an interim basis. We have all witnessed what can happen when the public loses confidence in an elected body with the recall of the Wrangell Medical Center board. I believe that has set a precedence in terms of public image and credibility that all of us who serve need to consider.

Lastly I would like to address the assertion that I may have been less than prepared when I took over the positions of Electrical Superintendent here at WML&P. Prior to taking this position I had approximately 14 years with this utility plus an additional season working a major Tyee transmission upgrade. As the senior member of this department, I have had the privilege and honor of working side-by-side with this crew through all types of storms, outages and upgrades long before I was ever considered for this position. I also frequently served as Acting Superintendent for several years. My time with this organization has given me a balanced understanding of not only the technical and operational aspects of the department but also a first hand account of how much of it got that way. That my community allows me the responsibility of operating this utility is both sobering and humbling; your trust in not taken lightly.

Clay Hammer, Electric Superintendent

Wrangell Municipal Light and Power

To the Editor:

I wrote this for my mother when I lived in “Bush Country” many years ago- no stores within 2 hours and so I wrote this for my mom- I’d like to share it with all mothers this year- especially those of the “Depression Days,” the 30s and 40s when no one had much money and times were really hard.

“Mother’s Day is almost here and it brings to me my childhood years and what they mean to me- Our house was always full of friends- she welcomed one and all! An old school chum was one of them- I met him late last fall. “How’s your mother,” he said to me. My friend from childhood time. “I know she is your mother but I thought of her as mine. She always made me feel at home, be sure and tell her Hi!” “I will,” I replied, as we said good-bye. “She’s one of the greatest of mothers.” Happy Mother’s Day

Jeanie Lindley

To the Editor:

Thomas Bay Power Authority Commissioners and citizens, I would like to recap the journey of the past 17 months.

January of 2012 TBPA faced the abrupt resignation of its General Manager followed shortly by the retirement of the plant foreman of 19 years. SEAPA commissioned an operations review that was generally believed to recommend the cancellation of the operations and maintenance contract held by TBPA since the mid 1980s. TBPA had not conducted first aid training for any employees and all had expired first aid cards. The TBPA safety manual did not exist. First aid supplies were inadequate. Personnel and Policy manuals were out of date. Vehicles were unsafe and unreliable. The Commission Policy Manual had not been adopted. Some positions within the company were filled by personnel not meeting job certification requirements. The communities of Wrangell and Petersburg were increasing the funding of the Non-Net Billable Budget undergoing pressure from operational expenses unfunded by SEAPA. Union employee wages and benefits were escalating at an unsustainable trajectory. Morale within the company was at a low point and open communication between SEAPA and TBPA management was lacking.

Operationally, we faced errant alarms on the submarine cable SCADA, significant difficulties in integrating the narrow band radio requirements, and continuing failures in the aging SCADA system.

I am pleased to report that while many challenges remain for Thomas Bay Power Authority much has been accomplished.

Largely through the effort of staff and the TBPA Commission the SEAPA Board delayed action on canceling the operations and maintenance contract. The communities of Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg have individually begun independent reviews of the operational status of SEAPA assets.

Safety has become a priority. All employees including office staff are current in first aid and AED training. New first aid and AED equipment was placed at the Tyee facility, the SEAPA boat and the office. The Coast Guard has conducted orientation drills at the Tyee facility with their helicopter crews. Training on substation entry and personal protective equipment has occurred. A safety manual has been adopted, published and distributed to all employees. A safety committee is mandated by the recently ratified IBEW collective bargaining agreement with the bargaining unit committing to provide a member to the committee.

Two new vehicles have been purchased to replace two that were surplused.

TBPA has developed a scheduled right of way vegetation-clearing program. Unfortunately, this must be modified if access by all terrain vehicles is denied.

Thomas Bay began a conservation and energy efficiency program installing modern efficient lighting and turning off major area lighting when it is not required. This will provide an example for our communities in extending the life of our dwindling hydroelectric reserves.

Recognizing the possibility of a potential generation shortage this winter the Commission developed a voluntary short-term load sharing arrangement between Petersburg and Wrangell. This may be used as a template for a longer-term agreement.

A closer working relationship has been fostered with out counterpart KPU. This led to sharing of training materials and a standardized reporting format to the SEAPA Board. KPU employees were able to make emergency repairs to alarm radio equipment at the Tyee facility and the submarine terminals when the SEAPA contractor was unable to provide manpower.

TBPA has discovered a previously unknown source of funds in an ARECA investment of over $250,000. Availability of these funds is being pursued by the City of Wrangell’s attorney. These funds could go toward a number of projects for the future energy needs of Petersburg and Wrangell.

Just last week a newly negotiated IBEW collective bargaining agreement was ratified by our employees. This new contract reigns in wage increases and caps medical insurance costs giving TBPA the needed ability to stabilize its budget.

Paul Southland

General Manager

 

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