PUD Commissioner Arie Callaghan is a third-generation Harborite. He lives in Elma with his wife Tina and has worked for Mason Trucking Company in Aberdeen for 24 years. In his free time, Callaghan collects vintage dirt bikes, drives his 1979 Jeep CJ-7 and watches NASCAR. He also enjoys spending time with his daughter Erin, son-in-law Jeff and granddaughters Sawyer and Hadley, who also live in Elma.
What does a PUD commissioner do?
A commissioner’s role is oversight of the organization as a whole. The county is split into three districts with a commissioner representing each district. Each commissioner is elected to a six-year term and is responsible for hiring a general manager who runs the day-to-day operations of the PUD. Approving budgets and expenditures are among the commissioners responsibilities but I believe being the front line of defense against anything that might affect the advantage we have of being publicly owned is our most important duty. Something that I learned early on as a commissioner is that we are constantly under siege for the preference our utility receives for hydro power from the Columbia River system. It is a street fight and we are not going to let anyone take it from us.
You recently completed your first year in office. How did it go? What did you learn?
Running for public office is something that I never imagined I would do. I consider representing friends, family, neighbors and the working people of Grays Harbor as the greatest honor a person can have. Electricity is something everyone uses in their daily lives and we as commissioners have a responsibility to keep it as affordable as possible for our customer-owners. The learning curve is huge and it takes time to figure out what is involved in getting power to everyone’s homes but a lot of it comes down to using good common sense, not getting involved in risky ventures and staying with the basics of what we are here for: supplying electricity to the customer owners in the safest most efficient and affordable way possible.
The PUD has undergone some changes in the past year, including hiring General Manager Dave Ward. How are things going?
The hiring of Dave Ward has had a huge impact on the PUD. Dave was raised in Grays Harbor and is well aware of the challenges our county is continuously facing. His industry background and exceptional leadership qualities made him a perfect fit for general manager.
The PUD is responsible for cleaning up parts of the Harbor Paper site, including a large ash pile. How are the plans for the cleanup going? Is there any estimate for how much it will cost?
There is no doubt that Harbor Paper has been a hot button issue, but it does no good to rework a past decision that was made with the best of intentions. What we need to do is learn from what happened in the past, limit the impacts and move forward. To that end, we have retained the service of John Pelegrini to help mitigate the responsibility the PUD has at the Harbor Paper site. John worked at the plant for over 40-years. He knows it inside and out and is working to lessen the impact and get the district clear of its obligation. Until a determination is made concerning alternative uses or disposal of the ash pile, we will not have a hard number on the total cost.
PUD customers saw a 3.75 percent rate increase in January and there was some talk of another increase this summer during budget season. Are more increases likely this year?
This is without a doubt, the least pleasant part of my job. The district receives the bulk of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration, an organization that increased their rates for electricity by 11 percent and transmission by 9 percent. By renegotiating the old debt and making cutbacks, the district was able to lessen the impact on our customers to 3.7 -percent. We do not take any increase lightly and understand the impact that it has on each and every citizen. However, we can only hold the line for so long and we are obligated to keep a safe and reliable system. As to future increases, there are many factors that combine to make up the need for a rate increase, all of which we are closely monitoring.
What do you hope to achieve as a PUD commissioner?
I would like to regain the confidence of our customer-owners. I believe there is animosity toward the PUD because electricity is something nearly everyone needs and the PUD is the only place to get it. I have learned there are many things in this industry that can’t be controlled, but we can control how the organization is run and ensure that we have the best people doing that job. If we do that while running a safe and efficient organization, I think we have taken the first step toward regaining that customer confidence.
Anything else you want to add?
The Grays Harbor PUD is owned by each and every customer we serve. Commissioners Skolrood, Timmons and I, along with the PUD staff want to be good stewards of this valuable asset. Our commission meetings are held at 4:30 on the first and third Monday afternoon of each month and are open to the public. If you have something to say to us, please come. If you can’t be there, please feel free to call my office at 360-538-6514 and I will be sure to return your call.