Islands' Sounder


Fun times at OPALCO meeting

Islands Sounder Journal of the San Juans editor
May 7, 2013 · Updated 1:14 PM

Orcas Islanders board the ferry for the annual OPALCO meeting on May 4. / Scott Rasmussen/staff photo Orcas Islanders board the ferry for the annual OPALCO meeting on May 4.

Door prizes. Election results. Free lunch. A chance to mingle with friends from afar. A state of the union address; an annual shareholders report.

As many as 300 people climbed onboard the Washington State Ferries’ Elwha for the 76th annual meeting of Orcas Power & Light Cooperative, Saturday, May 4, and they did so for a variety of reasons.

But the chance to weigh in on the risks and rewards of power cooperative’s broadband initiative, with co-op executives on hand, was clearly on the mind of many.

“Stay in the business your in,” Lopez Island’s Bosco Bailey cautioned. “Live within your means.”

Naomi Aldort was more emphatic. “Some of us don’t want it, keep it the way it is,” she said.

While the portion of the annual meeting set aside for the Q & A of the broadband initiative was only part of the program, it stands as one of the biggest investments the power cooperative has contemplated since its formation. Under the initiative, as it stands today, OPALCO would borrow roughly $34 million to build and expand its network of fiber-optic lines and transmission capability, and provide of high-speed Internet access and telephone service to its members, at a cost of $90 a month to those who sign up for the new service, and $15 a month for those who don’t. Interest on the federal loan, offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Service, is expected to cost $10 million over the life of the 25-year loan.

Though some remain skeptical, others maintain that better broadband delivered at higher and more reliable speeds will help to boast and diversify economic opportunities.

County Councilman Rick Hughes of Orcas Island believes the islands’ economy could improve with better broadband and that there are benefits to having delivery of fiber-optic capability under local control.

“If we want to do it right, I think we should own it,” he said.

Meanwhile, voter turnout hit an all-time high as three candidates, including two incumbents, were elected to three-year terms on the co-op’s board of directors. With roughly 2,600 ballots cast, 720 cast online, (out of a possible 10,918), Bob Myhr and Jim Lett were elected to the two District 3 board positions, representing Lopez and surrounding islands. Shaw Island’s John Bogert, in an uncontested race, earned another term as the board’s District 4 representative.

In addition, OPALCO presented this year’s winners of the annual Nourdine Jensen Youth Scholarship Program. Brodie Miller, Bree Swanson and Maya Burt-Kidwell each received a $500 scholarship and will attend a youth rally leadership camp in Idaho later this year.

And there were, of course, the dozens of door prizes. And some win big. Robert Walker and his wife have attended each meeting since moving from Texas to Orcas Island three years ago.

“Last year we won the $750 power bill credit,” Walker said.

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