Five candidates are seeking election to Position 1 on the Skagit Public Utility District Board of Commissioners: Kenneth Goodwin, Wim Houppermans, Andrew Miller, Bryce Nickel and Rick Pitt. The term is for six years.
Al Littlefield, who has served in the District 1 position since 1985, is not seeking re-election.
The Skagit PUD is the water provider for the cities of Burlington, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley and neighboring rural and suburban areas — a total of 26,000 metered connections. The district also operates eight remote water systems, including systems on Fidalgo and Guemes islands.
The Anacortes American asked the candidates to respond to a set of questions.
Name: Rick Pitt
Party preference: Democrat – I’ve been endorsed by the Skagit County Democrats.
Residence: Bayhill – Burlington.
Education: BA in Economics, University of Washington; J.D., Creighton University
Elected offices held: Commissioner, Corral Springs Water District.
Community involvement: Board of Directors, Skagit County Boys & Girls Club; Board of Directors, University YMCA; volunteer, Skagit Food Bank; coach, Skagit Little League; coach, girls basketball; chair, Montesano Parks Board Campaign.
Campaign website: Rick Pitt for PUD Commissioner on Facebook.
Why are you running for office? Water is critical to our economy, our ecology and to our way of life. From its Potlatch Beach system on Guemes Island to its groundwater well in Marblemount, the PUD operates critical infrastructure in supplying clean water to over 70,000 customers. With two of the three PUD commissioners leaving the board this year (and the remaining commissioner with only 1+ year experience), it’s important that the newly elected commissioner be knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with the challenges facing the PUD.
I am an attorney with more than 30 years’ experience; the last 13 years as general counsel for another Western Washington PUD. I’ve also been an elected commissioner for a small Eastern Washington water district. I have participated in numerous policy discussions and budget preparations. Bottom line – I can hit the ground running. I have the education, training, and experience to make a difference in my community serving as a PUD commissioner.
Starting with a law clerkship/staff attorney with the state Supreme Court, I have been involved with some sort of public service for most of my adult life. Whether serving on a park board or most recently as a PUD attorney, I have developed a skill set with an emphasis on teamwork that has resulted in a track record of success.
What are the five biggest issues facing the candidate who is elected to this position? 1) Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic recession; 2) insuring that our farmers have a permanent, uninterruptable source of irrigation water in drought years; 3) managing aging infrastructure and an aging workforce; 4) expanding high-speed internet service to rural and under-served communities and 5) last, but not least, climate change and conservation of our water resources. The common theme for all of these issues is the challenge to maintain high-quality water services with consistently affordable rates.
How would address them?: 1) As a result of the pandemic recession, many PUD customers have been unable to pay their water bills. As a new commissioner, I believe the PUD needs to work with these customers to do whatever it takes to help them get back on their feet. This includes waiving interest, penalties, and reconnection charges, deferring payments when appropriate, and agreeing to repayment plans.
2) 2015 and 2019 were drought years where our farmers’ irrigation water supply was cut off because of below-minimum in-stream flows in the Skagit River. In response, the PUD worked with the state Department of Ecology to provide emergency irrigation water to our farmers. I support the PUD entering into an Interlocal Agreement with the Skagit Drainage and Irrigation District to work cooperatively on a number of projects including a joint legislative task force to find a permanent, uninterruptable source of water for the agricultural community. I also believe the PUD should participate with Ecology, the tribes, the county, and all interested parties in the re-licensing of Seattle City Lights’ Skagit River dams. A modest change in late summer discharges from Seattle’s three dams could provide the resources needed to secure a permanent, uninterruptable source of agricultural water.
3) Managing aging infrastructure and an aging work force is an industry-wide challenge. We need a long-term approach focusing on scalable efficiencies to maintain our infrastructure requirements and a plan to pass on the institutional knowledge of retiring employees acquired over decades of service. At the same time, it’s important to balance the maintenance needs of our water service with a fiscally conservative approach to rates.
4) The PUD and the Port are negotiating a joint operating agreement to provide an open access, wholesale, telecommunications system to serve rural areas and east county communities that lack access to fiber optics. The long-term strategic goal is a countywide, carrier grade, fiber network. This would enhance economic development, education, public health and safety.
5) Climate change presents a myriad of challenges. We are beginning to see warmer summer temperatures and a declining winter snowpack. Conservation becomes more important in the face of these issues.
I certainly don’t purport to have all the answers. As a new commissioner, I intend to work cooperatively with my fellow commissioners, PUD staff, and our customers to develop a common vision and plan to maintain safe, clean, high-quality water services at consistently affordable rates and maintain, protect and enhance our invaluable water resources.
What sets you apart from your opponents?: My education, training and experience make me the best qualified candidate. I am the only candidate with experience in dealing both with PUD law and operations and with water issues as a water district commissioner. Having been involved in local government in various venues, I know how to get projects off the books and operational. I live and work in the PUD’s service territory. Not all candidates do. Candidates living in Anacortes get their water from the city utility, not from the PUD. As a result, candidates not residing in the PUD’s service territory will be enacting policies and voting on rate increases that do not directly affect them, their families or their neighbors.
How are you campaigning and engaging with voters during the pandemic?: I have participated in the League of Women Voters televised forum and been interviewed by various civic organizations using Zoom.
How can voters learn more about you? I have a Facebook page, Rick Pitt for PUD Commissioner. People can email me at Pitt4PUD.org or call my campaign phone number, 360-218-4330.