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By Sverre Bakke
Gorge News Reports 

PUD appealing court ruling

 


Public Utility District No. 1 of Klickitat County is appealing a Klickitat County Superior Court ruling denying its motion to dismiss a $1.6 million fire cost recovery claim filed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Judge Brian Altman issued an oral ruling against Klickitat PUD (KPUD) on June 6. Altman, who heard oral arguments in the matter on May 21, also accepted notice from KPUD that it intended to appeal his decision.

Daniel W. Short, a Spokane attorney representing KPUD in the matter, said on June 11 an order denying KPUD’s motion to dismiss the state’s complaint will be presented to and signed by Judge Altman “within a week or two and then filed in Klickitat County Superior Court.”

Within 30 days thereafter, Short continued, KPUD will be filing a notice of discretionary review with Division III of the state Court of Appeals in Spokane. Following submission of briefs by KPUD and the state, the appellate court will advise the parties if discretionary review is granted or denied.

“We believe this process may take two to three months” if the Court of Appeals accepts discretionary review, Short said. “My guess is briefs will be filed in late July or early August.”

In the meantime, KPUD officials maintain the Utility District is/was not negligent for the Old Highway 8 Fire of August 2010 that ignited from a ground spark after a stem of a double-topped ponderosa pine tore down KPUD power lines at 151 Old Hwy 8 in high winds, and is exempt by law from claims filed by another governmental entity.

Michael J. Rollinger, the assistant attorney general representing the DNR in its attempt to collect costs resulting from the Old Highway 8 Fire, emphasized the time and scheduling estimates made by Short are only estimates. “Estimates can vary considerably based upon a number of factors, including the appellate court’s, counsel availability, and so forth,” he noted.

As for settlement talks between the parties, Short and Rollinger declined to address the question. Said Short, “The case is in the midst of litigation and therefore we don’t have any comment.”

Short gave the same answer for questions about how much insurance coverage KPUD carries and what its claim deductible is, and whether any settlement will affect KPUD customer rates.

Rollinger told The Enterprise last month that DNR typically resolves its fire cost recovery claims without the need to file a lawsuit.

“In the past 10-plus years I have been representing DNR in its fire cost recovery claims, I have only had to file lawsuits on five occasions that I can recall,” Rollinger said. “All of the lawsuits were resolved prior to trial through negotiated settlements,” including one he filed against a PUD.

 

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