Recent Past

The Recent Past And Into The Future: 1958- 1988

Prior to 1941 all electric requirements were generated in the city from the Diesel Plant, located at 5th and Irvine, the Hydro-Electric Plant, located on Baker Creek, and in the early years, the first plant, located on the South Yamhill River. When Milt McGuire retired in July of 1957, Alan Jones was appointed to succeed him as General Manager of MW&L.

Born in Walla Walla, Washington in 1923, Mr. Jones later attended the Colorado School of Mines and Ripon College. He served as a waist gunner in the Army Air Corps during World War II, before joining MW&L in 1949. During his years as general manager, he was to give to the utility an outstanding capability for long range planning.

“Long-range planning, that’s what the utility is about,” Jones is quoted as saying. “You have to make short-range decisions based on what you see in the future, and avoid short-range viewpoints.”

Shortly after Jones was appointed as General Manager, the Commission learned of a new dam development called Wanapum, located on the Columbia River. In May of 1958 a letter, concerning the development of Wanapum, was sent to the Public Utility District (PUD) of Grant County and over a year later, in June of 1959, a resolution authorizing the purchase of power from the Wanapum Dam was unanimously approved. Wanapum was to generate 6,000 KV of power and when the Commission entered into the purchase contract with the PUD of Grant County, it did so to resell the power to PGE and PP&L, withdrawing the power when MW&L needed it; just as it had done with the Priest Rapids power. These and other contracts with the Grant County PUD, have saved MW&L customers millions of dollars.

In September of 1962, after close to 40 years service as the clerk of the MW&L Commission, Miss Mina Redmond terminated her employment. Following this action, the Commission elected Mary Koch to be their new clerk.

Born on a homestead in Canora, Saskatchewan, Canada, Miss Koch moved to Oregon with her family in 1923 and to McMinnville in 1928. She kept books and collected accounts for the City Sanitary Service in McMinnville while attending high school. After graduation she moved to Seattle and spent eight years as a secretary at a mission headquarters, working also with underprivileged children. In 1941, Milt McGuire asked Miss Koch if she would return to McMinnville and work for the Water and Light Department as a secretary and billing clerk. She accepted Mr. McGuire’s offer and eventually, along with her other duties, assumed the department’s accounting responsibilities. Over the years, Mary Koch has come to be known for the “untiring devotion to her work, the ability to remember and give attention to the endless details involved,” and her incredible sense of humor.

On 18 April 1963 a One Cent Power Achievement Award was presented to the city of McMinnville “for attaining an average cost of electricity to its residential consumers… of one center less per kilowatt hour” during 1962.

MW&L had an incredibly busy year in 1964. It was a year of new power contracts, a new power substation and the construction of a new reservoir. It was also the year of its 75th birthday! In April, authorization was given to proceed with preparations and final plans to receive bids for the construction of a seven million gallon, pre-stressed, circular reservoir with a flat top roof. In early May, a contract was approved for purchase of the Commission’s 0.04 percent entitlement of the Canadian Power Exchange. Opening the bids for the construction of the new reservoir in June, the Commission had accepted the $368,846 bid of Riverman and Sons by late July. The reservoir was to be adjacent to the two existing reservoirs, located west of McMinnville and was to be 200 feet in diameter and 31 feet high. The Commission used funds on hand to construct the new reservoir. Also during this time, a 24 inch water line was added from the reservoirs to town. Also in June of 1964, MW&L and the BPA joined forces in building a new substation on the west side of McMinnville, at the end of West Side Road (now known as West Second).

During the month of July, the Commission kicked off a campaign, called “Electri-Gift Days,” in recognition of its 75th anniversary. Commission members included L.F. Ramsey, H.A. Taylor, C.L. Davison, Waldo J. Sears and Milo A. Wold. The idea of “Electri-Gift Days” was to enable the residential customer to pay his light bill and in exchange receive an “Electri-Gift Days” certificate in the amount of the bill just paid. The gift certificate was for the purchase of electrical merchandise or service. MW&L told its customers, during the above mentioned campaign, that its primary objective was to “provide the best possible service at the lowest possible cost to our customer-owners… and the Electri-Gift Days program is one way of making your electric dollar go farther.” Not only did this campaign stretch the residential customers “electric dollar,” but it also channeled over $25,000 into McMinnville’s business community. The campaign lasted from July 10 to September 10, 1964 and resulted in $60,617 worth of business for the community. On 10 November MW&L celebrated its 75th birthday at a Chamber of Commerce sponsored banquet held at St. James Church.

Employing 32 people, during 1964 MW&L had a total of 4,528 electric customers and 2,877 water customers. The utility’s rates were recognized as Oregon’s lowest. Comparing national averages of .0237 per KWH and state averages of .0128 per KWY, McMinnville area residents paid on average of only .008 cents per KWH.

In June of 1965, the Commission purchased 80 acres of land, located in the Walker Flats area of the upper Nestucca River, at $75 per acre from the Morley brothers. In July the new reservoir was approaching completion, but it took a while to fill it because of the water demand during that unusually warm summer. During August of the same year, the link Reservoir and Impounding Dam held 129 million gallons of water, with a 2.4 million gallon per day loss during the first ten days of the month. The water was being drained by hot and thirsty customers at a dangerously fast rate.

MW&L was almost ready to move into their new building in September of 1965. Work on the rebuilding of the Haskins Creek Diversion Dam, damaged by a flood in 1964, had begun during the previous week. The Commission was asking customers to voluntarily conserve water, because conserving it was better than not having it. In October the Commission received a report that the stream flow and water use from the 48 million gallon Haskins Creek Reservoir had stabilized.

A Commission meeting was called in late 1965, to consider the selection of a suitable site for a new dam. Site 4-C, on the Nestucca River, was selected as being the best possible site for the future dam and the Commission proceeded to make “applications for Federal Advanced Planning Funds, available on a loan basis… and Federal Grant Funds for the construction work on a matching (fund) basis.” Once permission for obtaining Federal Grants was given by the Commission, General Manager Jones and Miss Koch spent many, many hours writing grant applications to the Housing and Urban Development program for matching funds to be used in the construction of the new dam. The $615,000 to be matched by the federal grant was generated by timber sales in the watershed area, plus water and electric revenue.

Water Rates in December of 1965 were as follows: The first 500 cubic feet at 40 cents per 100 cubic feet; the next 800 cubic feet at 15 cents, followed by the next 3,700 cubic feet at 10 cents, with the next 60,000 cubic feet being 8 cents, and all water usage over 65,000 cubic feet at 6 cents.

In 1966 the BPA issued a “notice of insufficiency,” which meant that in seven years there would not be enough electrical energy being generated to supply everyone in need. Soon after, public power agencies in the Northwest region organized the Public Power Council as a power suppliers planning arm to project power requirements of the region. MW&L was especially involved because Alan Jones served as chairman of the Council for 16 years.

On June 13, 1967 at a meeting of the MW&L Commission, a resolution was passed naming the projected new dam and reservoir project on the Nestucca River Milton Hunt McGuire Dam and Reservoir. In July of the same year, the Commission received a grant from the Economic Development Administration and proceeded to prepare a resolution providing for construction of the earth, and rock filled dam, at the above mentioned site, and also a new 24 inch water supply pipe line from the Link Reservoir to the city’s distribution system reservoirs. The pipe line ran parallel to the line constructed previously, and was connected at various points, enabling continuity of water flow. If there happened to be a break in the line, the broken section could be shut off and the water would still flow toward McMinnville. The construction contract for the new dam was awarded to Frank Lyons and Company, of Portland, for the sum of $359,891, and C.C. Meisel, of McMinnville, was awarded the contract for relocating and constructing the Nestucca access road with sub-base and base rock in March of 1968.

In 1968, although the water was relatively pure, MW&L needed a water treatment plant. The use of filters in the reservoirs and impounding dam weren’t removing enough of the algae and other biological material to keep up with federal standards for clean water. So, a water treatment plant was built near the Link Impounding Dam and named for Mayor Norman R. Scott. Today, 13.5 gallons of soft bicarbonate are treated daily with chlorine, fluoride and ash at the Scott Treatment Plant.

In October of 1968 and the first half of 1969, negotiations and authorization was given by the Commission for a contract with Cascade Steel Rolling Mills, located on the north side of McMinnville. This contract paved the way for an ongoing relationship with the above mentioned steel mill, that today remains as the largest user of electrical power in the city.

At a Commission meeting, held 80 years to the day from the time electricity first lit the streets of McMinnville, a discussion was held regarding the Baker Creek Hydro-Electric Plant. The plant had not been used at all during 1967 and a question was raised regarding its disposal. Abandonment of the water rights on Baker Creek was authorized by the Commission in January of 1971, and the old dam and plant were dismantled. Parts from the old plant were found to be useful at various dam and reservoir sites.

By May of 1969 work on the new Windishar Substation, being built by MW&L and begun earlier in the year, was progressing satisfactorily. With the substations completion an additional two-12-16,000 KV transformers helped to transmit power to Cascade Steel and McMinnville’s other industrial power users. By July 8 the McGuire Dam was nearly complete, but was being held up due to bad weather. In January of 1971 the gate was closed at the McGuire dam, enabling the 1.2 billion gallon reservoir to fill with water.

Both the McGuire Dam and the Windishar Substation were dedicated on 24 August 1971. The new $500,000, 115 KVA Windishar Substation was named for R.H. (Rudy) Windishar, who had been elected to the city council in 1933 and became mayor 1939, serving in that capacity until 1951. While he was mayor, Windishar served as ex-officio member of the Water and Light commission and “helped to formulate many of the progressive programs which make the municipal utility one of the most outstanding in the nation today.” Windishar was named to the MW&L Commission following his term as mayor and served there until 1962. He became president of the McMinnville Industrial Promotions Corporation (MIP) during that time and served on the board of the MIP until 1970. Windishar was present at the above mentioned dedication ceremonies, along with Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield, who officially named the new facilities.

By the mid-1970s, Bonneville could not buy enough power to meet the region’s needs, so the Pacific Power Council entered into a contract with the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) and Bonneville to pay a portion of the PGE owned, Trojan Nuclear Power Plant’s budget. EWEB had funded 30 percent of Trojan, when it was being built, by selling bonds and MW&L paid for a portion of that 30 percent. In return, because the BPA got a portion of its power from Trojan, credit was applied to MW&L’s power bill with the BPA. In 1976 the BPA again gave a notice of insufficiency, so MW&L and other public and private utilities invested in Washington’s nuclear power plants at Hanford. Construction began on the plants at a time when inflation and interest rates were skyrocketing, and eventually construction on the plants were terminated. Ironically enough, it turned out that Bonneville had enough power after all.

In early 1979 Mary Koch retired and Delores Land was elected as Clerk of the Commission. Born in McMinnville in 1947, Delores graduated from McMinnville high-school and attended Meritt Davis Business College before coming to MW&L. She began as an office employee at MW&L on 01 November 1966, becoming office manager and clerk of the Commission in 1979. Besides her job at MW&L, she is a member of the Soroptimist Club, serving as its treasurer from 1987-1988. She is also on the advisory board of Chemeketa Community College.

In late 1979, MW&L used real horse power to accomplish a project that could be done in no other way. A feeder line had to be installed between the Windishar Substation and the industrial complex on Orchard Avenue. The problem was this: A planted field stood in the way of installing the feeder line and there was no way heavy machinery could get in to do the job. MW&L’s answer to the problem was the use of employee Chuck Kadell’s draft horses, Rowdy and Porter, to pull the four feeder lines into place, accomplishing this task in a matter of hours.

During the early 1980s, MW&L built a 115 KV power line, from the East Substation, south and west to the Walnut City Substation, thus creating a power loop around McMinnville. By 1982, the utility had grown enough to have 60 employees. The goal of the utility was still to deliver economic and dependable water and electric service to the community. The MW&L main office was located at 130 Baker Street, and its warehouse was located on 11th and Irvine.

A $208,977 contract for a large transformer was awarded to RTEI / ASEA in early June of 1984. This transformer was to be placed in a large and powerful new substation being built by MW&L on Booth Bend Road on McMinnville’s south side. Once this substation was complete in late 1985, McMinnville had a substation in its north, west, south and east corners, enabling power to flow uninterrupted through the 115 KV line throughout the city, even if there was a break in the lines.

In early 1986 Alan Jones retired, becoming a consultant and adviser for MW&L until 1991.

During his career at MW&L he was active as chairman of the Public Power Council, a board member of the American Public Power Association, a member of the Bonneville Regional Advisory Committee, president of the Northwest Public Power Association, chairman of the American Public Power Association, chairman of the Non Generating Public Utilities, chairman of the Northwest Section American Water Works Association, chairman of the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference.

Mr. Jones received the Junior Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award in 1958, the Paul J. Raver Award for community service from the Northwest Public Power Association in 1974, the James D. Donovan Individual Achievement Award from the American Public Power Association in 1979, the George Warren Fuller Award of the American Water Works Association in 1980 and the BPA Pioneer Award in 1987. He presently is serving on the Board of Directors of the PNUCC.

Shortly after Mr. Jones retired, Robin Morecroft was elected as general manager of MW&L, serving in that capacity until recently, when the Commission accepted his resignation. Soon after Morecroft’s resignation, the Commission elected John Harshman as its new general manager, and he began his duties in April of 1988. Harshman moved to McMinnville from Alaska, where he had been the general manager of the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility 1978-1981, the executive manager of Public Utilities Anchorage 1981-1984 and the general manager of Anchorage Telephone Utility 1984-1988. He attended Washington State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and he did graduate work in accounting, business administration, finance and arctic engineering at Eastern Washington State College and University of Alaska. Mr. Harshman is a registered engineer in Washington and Alaska and has been in the United States Corps of Engineers for two years.

Previously, in 1986, negotiations resulted in a contract being authorized by the Commission, with Mackenzie and Saito, for the construction of new MW&L facilities. The construction firm of Tripplett and Wellman was contracted to build the new facilities, located just off of Riverside Drive. The beautifully designed headquarters for MW&L consists of offices, a conference room, rest rooms, control rooms and a very well lit reception area where customers can come in and pay their bills. Also included in the approximately $2,070,000 complex is a large warehouse which contains offices, room for trucks and a mezzanine area. The employees of MW&L moved into the new facilities in April of 1988 and had an open house in June, inviting all citizens of the McMinnville area out to take a look.

Today, in 1988, MW&L has an adequate water supply: The Walter Link Dam, located on Haskins Creek, a tributary of the North Yamhill River, impounds 250 million gallons of water and The Milton Hunt McGuire Dam, located on the Nestucca River, impounds 1.2 billion gallons of water. McMinnville’s water supply is brought by gravity from McGuire Dam to Link Dam through a saddle in the coast range and at Link Dam the soft bicarbonate water enters the Scott Treatment Plant. From there the water flows towards two covered reservoirs, two miles west of McMinnville, where it is passed on for the use of 5,000 water customers.

Today, MW&L serves 8,200 electric customers who get 35 percent of their electricity from the Priest and Wanapum Dams, 5 percent from the Canadian Power Exchange, and 60 percent from the BPA. The contracts with Wanapum, Priest Rapids and the Canadian Power Exchange are due to expire within the next 10 to 15 years. Contracts with the BPA, however, will carry MW&L into the next century, providing customers with service they can depend on at low rates.

When the McGuire Dam was dedicated, MW&L was looking to the future knowing that water would become “an increasingly important asset” for the community during the next century. Property purchased in the Walker Flats area near the Nestucca River is planned to be the site of the future Walker Dam, which should be constructed and in use during the first decade of the 21st century and will impound an estimated 2 billion gallons of water. MW&L is also anticipating the increased power load of the future melt plant at Cascade Steel, still the largest user of power in the city. The excellent relationship with Bonneville assures a continued source of electrical power for the anticipated future growth of McMinnville.

MW&L has come a long way from its conception on the banks of the South Yamhill River at a time when the idea of electrical generation was only 7 years old. It has no debt and still has the capability to keep up with the expanding community it serves. Its 100 year birthday should not be looked at as the end of its first century. Rather, the 100 year anniversary of MW&L should be considered as the beginning of a new era in which it still provides its customers with dependable water and electricity at low rates!

McMinnville Water and Light’s First Hundred Years

A History Compiled by Katherine L. Huit

September 06, 1988