Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Utilities’ Category

Downtown Seattle design firm wins $15 million Navy contract

by Matt Rosenberg July 11th, 2011

SUMMARY: The downtown Seattle firm Makers Architecture and Urban Design has won a $15 million contract from the San Diego-based Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest to provide “project planning documents, plans, studies, geo-spatial information and service, global positioning system services and other services” at Navy and Marine Corps locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The unit  is one of 10 naval facilities engineering commands which contracts with vendors who deliver housing, piers, airfields, and hospitals at Navy and Marine Corps sites; plus services such as transportation, maintenance, utilities and energy, facilities management and base operations.

Lately, In Transparency – #2

by Kyle Kim July 8th, 2011

To complement the work at Public Data Ferret hub, we’re using the Ferret’s Twitter account to accent news highlights from the world of government transparency, freedom of the press and human rights. Here are some of the most recent finds, for June 28 through July 7, 2011.

The British government releases a trove of data in their new transparency initiative for a more open government. Via The Guardian.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota will launch the Open Government Partnership, a “new, multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” Via the US State Department.

A 164-page report by UN Women is filled with research to support recommendations for eliminating the global gender inequality. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes the report’s 10 key recommendations. In additional UN-related news, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay voiced skepticism on the world’s financial commitment to human rights: “It (funding for UN’s human rights system) is reportedly about the same amount as Australians spend on Easter eggs. It is about the same as the cost of three F-16 jet-fighters. It is one 50th of the 2010 cinema box office revenues in the United States; and the amount Europeans spent on their pets in 2010 alone (Euros 56.8 billion) would fund the entire UN human rights system, including my office, for something like 250 years.”

Public Data Ferret intern Kyle Kim reports how the benefits of Washington State’s initiative for greener buildings are unclear.

Highlighting concerns about concentration of media ownership, critics are voicing sharp criticism over the British government’s approval for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to acquire British Sky Broadcasting, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Politico reported the U.S. Army’s $2.7 billion cloud computing system has hurt more than it has helped the war efforts in Afhganistan and Iraq due to malfunction.

Washington Post:”Radiohead takes tentative step into censored Chinese cyberspace, launches Twitter-like page”

The Texas Watchdog has created a video on how to use open government laws to learn more about education-related issues.

A Texas law is requiring state agencies to post high-value data sets online. The aim is to improve government transparency and civic engagement. Via the Texas Tribune.

Tens of thousands of questions in the form of tweets were sent to President Obama in the Twitter Town Halll event, making him the first president in history to live tweet.

Public Data Ferret intern Melissa Steffan reports how the Washington State legislative audit committee found the state paid $399 million in government negligence, or tort claims from 2004 through 2010.

The White House launched an “engage” page in an attempt to encourage civic dialogue and participation. In the same week, the top White House salaries were released.

The Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency and accountability proponent, reports on how the public has been left out of the American debt ceiling discussion. The organization also covered how two reporters were arrested in a Washington D.C. public meeting.

The Associated Press is to open bureau in North Korea. Via Poynter.

Google’s Transparency Report reveals the U.S government made 54 content removal requests to the company in the second half of 2010.

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City Auditor: Seattle legal and liability claims total nearly $75 million over four years

by Melissa Steffan July 1st, 2011

SUMMARY: A recent City of Seattle Auditor’s report found that over a four-year period, from 2007 to 2010, the City of Seattle spent nearly $30 million to settle lawsuits filed against it. This accounts for 39 percent of the total $74,767,406 spent by the City of Seattle to cover legal judgments and financial claims against it during that time. The annual total continues to trend downward from a recent high in 2008. The auditor’s report recommended several strategies including stronger leadership and employee involvement, a focus on root causes of financial risk, and regular collection and analysis of data.

GAO: U.S. government’s cache of depleted uranium could fetch up to $4.2 billion in net profit

by Matt Rosenberg June 14th, 2011

SUMMARY: In testimony yesterday to a U.S. House subcommittee, the Government Accountability Office said the Department of Energy is sitting on assets currently worth $4.2 billion in the form of depleted uranium “tails” that could be sold to nuclear power utilities. GAO urges DOE to refine and implement its own December 2008 plan – in which DOE pledged to begin selling by 2009 the depleted uranium, either as is or after re-enrichment. Federal legislation would have to be amended to allow sales of the tails as is. Re-enrichment capacity is uncertain. Market price volatility is a concern: GAO states that the longer it takes for DOE to bring the assets to market, the greater the risk their value could diminish below current levels.

Seattle to sell old utility property to Port for noise buffer

by Matt Rosenberg May 16th, 2011

SUMMARY: After selling or otherwise disposing of 159 excess properties for $159 million between 1998 and August 2008, the City of Seattle has sold none since then although it has some 212 “property management areas” declared as excess and worth roughly $81 million. Under a city council bill expected to be approved this week in committee and soon thereafter by the city council, Seattle would begin anew the offloading of some of its excess properties, with the sale for $178,212 of the old Sunnydale Substation parcel it owns in Burien to the Port of Seattle, which will use it to fill out the buffer zone near the third runway at Sea-Tac Airport.

Seattle Owns Excess Properties Worth Roughly $81 Million

by Matt Rosenberg May 3rd, 2011

SUMMARY: A new annual report shows the City of Seattle owns 212 excess properties or groups of properties with a combined assessed value of $80.9 million. Officials stress that appraisals would be needed to better calculate market values. Twenty-two of the 212 excess properties are under review for re-use or disposal and three have been approved by the city council for sale, though none are currently on offer. The highest-valued is Seattle Public Utilities Eastside Reservoir in Bellevue, assessed at $10.8 million; the next highest is Seattle City Light’s Roy Street Shops at $9.8 million. Other high-valued excess city properties include assorted transportation facilities and electrical substations.

Audit: Soap Lake Didn’t Collect Up To $515,000 In Utility Fees

by Lindsay Crocker March 4th, 2011

SUMMARY: Due to a combination of frequent turnover in the position of city clerk, and the introduction of new billing software which decreased city oversight of utility account classification changes and resulting billing rates, the City of Soap Lake, Wash. failed to collect as much as $515,000 in utility revenues which it was owed, from 2005 to late 2010. The findings come in a state audit issued this week.

BACKGROUND: The Central Washington city of Soap Lake, population 1,790, is governed by an elected seven-member council and mayor. The utilities provided by the city include water, Soap Lake water, sewer, and garbage. For billing purposes, customers are divided into three main classifications, each with a different rate: residential, commercial-residential, and commercial. Different utility rates are charged to each customer classification. This audit is based city on financial records covering the period from January 2, 2008 through December 31, 2009, but the findings extend from 2005 to 2010.

KEY LINK: Accountability Audit Report, City of Soap Lake, Wash., Washington State Auditor’s office, issued February 28, 2011.


  • The city changed its utility rates in 2005 when two related ordinances were passed, but didn’t update account classifications until October 2010, leaving some new revenues uncollected. A combination of frequent turnover in the city clerk’s position in the last five years, combined with the 2008 introduction of new utility billing software which employees failed to master, led to under-billing. The net effect was that city let customers self-report adjustments in the billing category classifications of their properties for five years.
  • The audit reviewed 26 adjustments made in 2008 and 2009 and found no supporting documentation other than brief comments. Nine of the adjustments appeared to be not warranted based on histories of the accounts. Untracked adjustments or unsupported variances totaled $112,500 in 2008 and $191,400 in 2009.
  • The under-billing may have cost the city as much as $103,00 per year from 2005 through 2010, or $515,000, if the accounts had been properly classified, according to estimates by the state auditor’s office. The city billed $714,000 for utilities in 2008 and $734,000 in 2009. Its annual budgets in those years were $3.6 million and $3.9 million.
  • The State Auditor recommends that the City begin the process to properly classify customer accounts immediately, ensure that all City employees have a full understanding of the new billing system, create and maintain documentation to support account classifications, and print and review reports following all account adjustments to guarantee accuracy and completeness.
  • The City of Soap Lake responded, conceding the possibility that revenues it was due went uncollected but stating its belief that all accounts are now properly classified. The City also created adjustment logs to manually document account changes. The affected property owners were notified and the City allowed them to offer comments on the situation at several council meetings. The council then approved a new ordinance which more clearly defines the different billing classifications.

Know Your Government: WA Energy Facility Site Council

by Matt Rosenberg February 24th, 2011

WHO, WHAT, WHY: The Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council was created by the legislature in 1970 to consolidate state agency reviews of proposals for new or expanded energy facilities, needed for deciding whether or not they will get official permits for construction and operation. The council issues or denies energy facility permits with authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under federal clean water and air laws. The council’s portfolio includes proposals for large natural gas and oil pipelines, larger electric plants, and new oil refineries. Alternative energy projects involving proposals for wind, solar, tidal, biomass or geothermal power facilities may opt for Council review of their plans. (Hydro-electric power facilities in Washington state are not regulated by the council; they are overseen by a separate federal agency called the Bonneville Power Agency.) The Council’s chairperson is appointed by the Governor, and the five members represent the Washington state departments of Commerce, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources, and the Utilities and Transportation Commission.

CURRENT WORK HIGHLIGHTS: The council has one proposal currently for which approval is being sought: the Whistling Ridge Energy Project, of up to 50 wind turbines on 1,152 acres of forested land on Saddleback Mountain in Skamania County.

Four more facilities it oversees are already licensed, permitted and operating. They are: