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Customers criticize Springfield Utility Board for ice storm response

Customer Daysha Ryan speaks to the Springfield Utility Board on Feb. 6, 2023.
Nathan Wilk
Customer Daysha Ryan speaks to the Springfield Utility Board on Feb. 6, 2023.

The Springfield Utility Board is facing criticism over its response to the recent ice storm.

At a listening session Tuesday, customers described what they saw as poor planning and communication, with some calling on leadership to resign.

Customers said SUB left many out of the loop by posting its updates—including a critical water boil notice—on Facebook. They said the utility also didn’t give them a realistic timeline for repairs, and its messages weren't as frequent as those from other utility companies.

"There's going to be more of these catastrophic storms. I want to see SUB's plans," said customer Nicole Ferrell. "And one of those has got to be mass communication."

Springfield resident Daysha Ryan said she went two weeks without power, calling SUB repeatedly only to be told her house was a last priority.

Ryan said at the utility's Jan. 19 press conference, it felt like leaders were blaming the community for being unready.

“Not everybody has the luxury of being able to prepare for a major storm," said Ryan. "So telling people to wait 14 days for a 15-minute fix is crazy to me. Crazy.”

At the meeting, SUB Board Chair Mark Molina provided some details on the utility's response efforts. He said it did have emergency protocols in place and took action before the ice storm hit.

However, he said it faced delays, as some employees became stranded in their homes, and crews from outside Springfield couldn’t get to the area right away.

"There was a great deal of effort and energy that was put into motion, even though it didn't seem like it," he said.

Molina and Nelson respond to customers.
Nathan Wilk
Springfield Utility Board leaders respond to customers.

Since the storm, some customers also reported receiving higher utility bills, despite power loss during the period. SUB General Manager Jeff Nelson told KLCC that some will see that corrected in their next utility payments.

“Our resources on the meter-reader side were really on the humanitarian focus, and on the power restoration focus," said Nelson. "And so we did have to estimate some bills."

Customers said these bills came on top of other storm-related expenses, like fuel, motels and grocery replacement.

Participants at the meeting asked the board to help obtain relief money for the community. But Nelson said federal funding could take many months, and will require President Biden to declare a state of emergency.

Molina said the board will respond to the community's feedback at its March meeting, and provide a detailed report of the emergency at a later date.

"We're going to be bringing in [other outside consultants] to do an overall view of what went well and what didn't go well," said Molina, "so that we can be better prepared should we face any type of crisis again in the future."

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.
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