Worried about the possibility of fires spreading due to a lack of water for fire suppression, a group of homeowners in Klickitat wants the Klickitat Public Utility District to install at least two new fire hydrants.
Residents of an area that includes Garrett, Loop, and Hill streets in Klickitat are increasingly concerned with the potential for a devastating fire in the closely-spaced houses in the hills above the town, but the PUD contends there is no money to pay for new hydrants.
"Our position is, we'll put them in if you want them, but there will be a $5.75 per month rate surcharge to pay for the hydrants," said Brian Skeahan, general manager of the PUD.
At a meeting last Wednesday, members of the Klickitat Community Council agreed to consider a request from local residents to ask the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority (EDA) to set aside nearly $13,000 to pay for the hydrants if the PUD fails to act.
Marie Davis, vice chair of the Community Council, noted that the town was allowed no more than two requests to tap into money from the county's landfill revenue, which the EDA oversees.
"We recognize the public safety issues here," Davis said. "We'll take this under advisement."
At the Oct. 24 council meeting, several homeowners revealed their frustration with the PUD, saying the utility is moving much too slowly on the fire hydrant issue.
"They keep adding it to their five-year plan, and it keeps going to the end of the list," said resident Betty Fink.
However, a deal to swiftly get the hydrants installed and working is being considered. One concept would have volunteers from the community doing the work, which would include digging trenches. The needed materials would be purchased from the PUD.
"Essentially, they would do the job, then turn it over to the PUD," Skeahan explained. "It's a community-based project."
But Lorraine Reynolds, the PUD's water-wastewater manager, said on Tuesday that the proposed project was by no means certain.
"It's still on hold," Reynolds said. "Someone in Klickitat will decide what they want to do."
Reynolds added that she was supportive of the call for the hydrants, but noted that funds for the project had to be lined up.
"I hope they come up with something soon, because the snow is going to fly. If we're going to do it, we need to get on it," Reynolds said. "If residents want to increase their water bills for a year, we could do it."
In March, the three commissioners of the Klickitat Fire Protection District wrote the PUD Board of Directors, detailing their concerns about the lack of water for fighting fires.
"We are requesting immediate action on the fire hydrant issue on a section of the Klickitat Townsite in the Loop Drive area," read the letter, signed by Fire District Chair John Maupin and commissioners Mike Overbay and Jim Reed. "The two hydrants have been out since the mill shut down several years ago. We have been unable to resolve this issue with the PUD since that time. Severe fire conditions are predicted for this coming fire season. Additionally, during a structure fire -- which resulted in a total loss on Loop Drive last month -- the Klickitat Fire Department was unable to utilize hydrant water. We are extremely concerned with our inability to provide fire protection for that area of town."
On April 2, Brian Skeahan responded to the letter by pointing out that the PUD did not realize there was a problem until the letter arrived.
"We agree action should be taken," Skeahan wrote. "However, the fire hydrants referenced in your recent letter have never been connected to the Klickitat community water system. These hydrants were part of the Champion Mill's water system. Please contact the current mill site owners regarding their desire to have the hydrants put back in working order ... We will be happy to cooperate as best we can in this regard."
Citizens dismissed the PUD's response.
"We're paying the PUD for our water, so as far I'm concerned, it's the PUD's responsibility," said one Klickitat resident. "The PUD is supplying drinking water, it ought to be supplying fire suppression."
"This is a life and safety issue," added Betty Fink. "There are a lot of families and a lot of children living up there. We need to make sure they keep it in their budget and get it done. Fire protection should be top priority. Six months is plenty long enough for the PUD to come up with some answers."