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The Oregonian, December 10, 2003

PUD gains ample signatures

Backers hope a measure to form a Clackamas County public utility district for electricity will appear on the May ballot


GLADSTONE — A petition to form a Clackamas County public utility district contained more than enough valid signatures to put the question on the ballot next year, county elections officials said.

Sherry Hall, county clerk, sent a memo to county commissioners this week certifying that the petitioners gathered 4,340 valid signatures. The law required 3,827 signatures.

The measure is headed for the May ballot but first will be the subject of a couple of public hearings and a study by state energy officials.

"It came out great," said Barbara Kemper, one of the chief petitioners. She said she was thrilled that the measure qualified for the ballot with signatures to spare.

The initiative would ask county voters to approve formation of a new public utility to provide electricity service, not including the area now served by the Canby Utility Board, a municipal public utility. It also would ask voters to allow the PUD to impose a one-time levy to pay for an engineering study. Most households would pay less than $1 total for the one-time levy, said Tom Civiletti of the Oregon Public Power Coalition.

The new public utility would have the power to condemn Portland General Electric's assets and begin providing electricity to customers.

The proposal is nearly identical to one Multnomah County voters rejected in November. Similar proposals also are in the works in Washington, Yamhill, Marion and Polk counties.

Jim Coleman, county counsel, told county commissioners during a work session Tuesday that there are several steps before an election can occur.

The Oregon Office of Energy has to hold a public hearing at least 30 days after receiving the petition and publish an informational report on the proposal within 60 days.

"We don't make a decision one way or another whether this is a good idea or not," said Diana Enright, an Office of Energy spokeswoman. Enright said the report must address how the proposed district might affect taxes and power rates, although she said that's often difficult to determine.

Once the Office of Energy completes its report, the Clackamas County commissioners will hold a hearing. The commissioners will be responsible for setting the boundaries of the proposed PUD and setting an election date.

Petitioners submitted their signatures so the measure could appear on the May ballot, and county commissioners said Tuesday that they're aiming for that election.

Portland General Electric, which heavily financed a campaign against this year's failed Multnomah County proposal, will also oppose the Clackamas County proposal.

"We're basically preparing for putting together a campaign and would expect to file the necessary papers when the ballot measure is created," said Scott Simms, a PGE spokesman.

Simms said PGE was encouraged by the defeat of the Multnomah County measure.

But Kemper also said she's encouraged by the Multnomah County measure.

"I've talked to some people from Multnomah County, and they began to get very aware of how PGE was really overloading the whole airwaves and everything with propaganda. . . . They started to get suspicious of that," Kemper said. "I think that we have a pretty good chance partly because of that, and partly because we have a little better idea of how to handle a campaign ourselves now."

Sarah Hunsberger: 503-294-5922; shunsberger@news.oregonian.com