Board president Pete Andrew had mostly good news to report to the members of the utility cooperative for the Dillingham area, reminding them that last spring the kilowatt rate was lowered for the first time. Incumbents Andrew, Chris Napoli, and newcomer Susie Jenkins Brito were elected to the board.
Audio Transcript: Nushagak Cooperative held its annual member meeting Tuesday night in Dillingham. The telephone, TV, internet, and electric utility for the Dillingham area had mostly good news for its members, despite budget concerns at the state and federal levels. Board president Pete Andrew reminded members that the kilowatt rate had been lowered last spring, and gave an update on the search for a new CEO to replace interim Mike Megli.
“As you all know we’re recruiting for a CEO. We’re just about closed, and I think we’re probably going to go into interviews in a couple of weeks with a couple of candidates," he said. "I’m not going to say who’s in the hopper there, but I think we’ve got a couple of good guys there that may serve us well.”
Megli has been serving as interim since the fall, after the board fired Nancy Favors. She had replaced Megli when he retired at the end of 2015.
In his report, Megli touted the cheaper diesel fuel prices, down towards $2 per gallon, that have been available since Vitus Fuels entered into the Dillingham market. Nushagak is on a three year agreement to purchase its roughly four million gallons of bulk fuel annually from Vitus.
“That’s $8 million that’s staying in Dillingham, supporting our own local economy," Megli said. "This is kind of a huge thing, and a benefit that we don’t normally see. We get the immediate gratification at the pump, but the long term is also there. Another example we get is we receive some money on storing that fuel, so it helps keep our rates down.”
He was referencing the extra tank space that Nushagak rents to Vitus to store its fuel, which allowed the company an early foothold in the Dillingham market several years ago.
As to upcoming work, Megli said there is some telecommunication expansion planned along Waskey Road this summer, putting infrastructure in place that may house added power distribution in the future as well. Electric expansion is slated soon along Wood River Road, said Megli.
“We have new three-phase power that we’re going to extend up Wood River Road, past Waskey Road, as phase one of a two or three phase project. That’s going to start this summer.”
Nushagak hopes to eventually sell power carried on those lines to the Icicle Wood River fish processing plant.
Megli also spoke of some coming work to expand broadband internet to Manokotak and possibly Clark's Point customers as well.
Several members raised questions about the high-speed internet service, especially the overage charges. Board president Pete Andrew said there are providers other than GCI the co-op could look at, but they would be costly to pursue.
“If we could just find ten million bucks we could tie into Quintillion, if they would let us," Andrew said. "That’s the fiber that comes from Asia and goes up to the North Slope and then over to London and Europe. That’s another solution, but that’s way up there,” Andrew said, speaking of the cost.
Three board members were elected at the annual member meeting. Incumbents Pete Andrew and Chris Napoli were each given another term. Kay Andrews of Aleknagik, Pat Owens of Aleknagik, and Susie Jenkins-Brito of Dillingham also ran for a seat on the nine person board. Jenkins-Brito won the spot.
“I feel that anyone of us would be strong supporters for the cooperative and their activities," she said in her stump speech. "We can always do better. We can always seek to continue our exploration of alternative energy sources. We can always choose to support science and what those advancements will do for our community.”
Between those three, the vote tally was 154 to Jenkins-Brito, 144 to Andrews, and 142 to Owens.
Tribute was paid to Rae Belle Whitcomb, who stepped down from the board after 26 years of service.
"I've enjoyed my time on the board," she said, a bit emotional.
"I wish we could say the same," cracked Pete Andrew, giving the room a good laugh.
Whitcomb got onto the board when she was 25, and encouraged the next generation to get involved early and help steer the utility cooperative into the future.
"Don't wait until you're my age to get on the board. Do something about it now, because it takes a while to learn it ... it is a commitment, all those acronyms? I'm finally going to remember my childhood memories now that I don't have to attend these meetings," she said.
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