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PSE pays to plant signs against PUD

Whidbey Consumers’ base in UPS office

Residents who awoke to anti-PUD signs planted in their lawns Labor Day weekend were introduced to Whidbey Consumers for Affordable Energy, the product of a political strategy firm funded by Puget Sound Energy.

The group is the newest player to emerge in the fight over creating a public utility district on Whidbey Island, joining People for Yes on Whidbey PUD and a group developed by the PUD’s riled former spokesperson, Concerned Citizens for Local Power.

“Whidbey Consumers” peppered their signs from Clinton to Oak Harbor last weekend, which picture a power outlet and the phrase “pull the plug on government takeover.” The signs angered some residents because they were placed on private and public property without permission. Langley resident Curt Francis said he removed four signs from his property.

As campaigns heat up, islanders remain in the public relations crossfire as PUD supporters push to acquire PSE’s assets. They promise better reliability and lower rates in the next five years.

However, PSE, a Bellevue-based company, pledged to keep their customers and argued that condemnation would create 20 percent higher electrical rates.

Strategies 360, a political and business strategy consulting firm, was hired to run the new campaign, Gretchen Aliabadi, public relations manager for PSE, said. PSE is currently the sole contributor.

According the the Public Disclosure Commission, the company had doled out $50,000 to “Whidbey Consumers” as of Aug. 29. Karen Waters of Strategies 360 said the group will give a voice to island residents who are concerned about a PUD.

“The biggest thing is that if voters approve this, they would give a newly formed PUD a blank check. The PUD would be able to issue bonded indebtedness placing the residents of Whidbey Island into hundreds of millions of debt without another vote of the people,” Waters said.

While the company is located in Seattle, Waters said the committee is based in Oak Harbor. The public disclosure forms show the mailing address is 31531 SR-20, Suite 8, the location of the UPS Store. Waters did not name any local members.

The only name listed in the paperwork filed with the state is Phillip Lloyd, an accountant from Seattle, who is the group treasurer. Lloyd is also a treasurer for anti-PUD groups in Skagit and Jefferson counties, where public utility districts are vying for their own power authority. No campaign manager or committee officers were listed on the forms.

At a PUD forum Wednesday evening, “People for Yes” examined the new signs and critiqued their message.

“The danger of government takeover? It’s a government of we the people. Look at the person to your left or right, if they look scary, then vote against it,” Marshall Goldberg, a PUD commissioner candidate in the November election, said.

Campaign director for “People for Yes” David Metheny, said the yard signs were littered along right-of-ways, in feeder lanes leading to the highway and placed on private property without permission. Taxpayer dollars were spent by the State Department of Transportation and the county Department of Public Works to have them removed.

“It’s not a good way to make a first impression,” Metheny said.

Waters attributed the sign problems to an overzealous supporter who wanted people to have a visual reminder.

“People for Yes” will counter with their own signs, which were handed out to forum attendees Wednesday.

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