Editorial: CenturyLink cost-cutting would put public at risk

The biggest provider of landline telephone and Internet service in Oregon wants regulators to let it pare back utility pole maintenance to one-fifth of its current requirement as a cost-cutting measure.

In a May 22 Willamette Week article entitled “Down to the wire,” CenturyLink is reported to have asked the Oregon Public Utility Commission to put off routine maintenance of utility poles to 10 years; five times the currently mandated two years.

CenturyLink serves 64 percent of the state’s landline customers, including many of those in Wasco and Hood River counties.

The company cites the burden of corporate debts, saying they have given it little room to maneuver. At the same time, the utility lost more than half its Oregon customers between 2002 and 2011, causing state revenues to decline by almost a third.

Caught in this pincer maneuver of circumstances, it’s understandable that CenturyLink would be looking for every way it can to cut expenses.

But safety is nowhere to cut corners. Not only would the change increase the risk to CenturyLink’s workers, but to other line workers like those of Northern Wasco Count People’s Utility District.

Poorly maintained poles and equipment also put the general public and their property at risk. And they mean greater risk of outages as a result of weather-related damage.

It’s no accident that Northern Wasco County PUD has very few weather-related outages. It has an aggressive policy of line and pole maintenance, as well as tree pruning, that minimizes the potential for emergency outages.

Were CenturyLink to reduce its maintenance by such a drastic measure, who knows what could be the result? In its Public Utility Commission filings, CenturyLink promised the time extension would only apply “when such violations pose little or no foreseeable risk of danger to life or property.” But how can they assure those conditions without having regular eyes on the poles to begin with?

Without a doubt, the cutback would result in layoffs in its staff of line workers, so who would assure the equipment remains risk-free?

It’s hard to sympathize with CenturyLink’s request. The corporation’s leaders have put it in this position with an aggressive expansion policy that apparently has failed to factor in some blatantly obvious changes in market forces — specifically the dominance of cellphones.

Now they want to lay the burden of those risky decisions on the backs of their employees and the public at large in the form of real increases in the potential for physical danger.

The risks CenturyLink took with its financial choices should rest squarely on the shoulders of corporate leadership and the stockholders.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission should continue to oppose this change. The top two planks of the commission’s mission are to “ensure that safe and reliable utility services are provided to consumers.”

CenturyLink’s request raises strong questions about the company’s ability to do that.

— From The Dalles Chronicle

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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