The Business of Government

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Oft times we hear folks complaining that government ought to be run more like a business. Well, yesterday we saw how that isn't always true. It's easy enough to complain about the foibles of government, as I have many times. It's only fair to acknowledge when government shines at what only it can do.

Yesterday a large water main broke catastrophically on Donovan Avenue. A section of 16 inch ductile iron pipe inexplicably cracked along its entire length. Within moments, a fountain erupted from the ground and a substantial river was running west to the FEMA floodplain in the vicinity of 24th and Donovan, where it flooded an unknown number of houses. This main is supplied from the water tower at the top of Yew Street Road, so there is a LOT of pressure on this line, capable of delivering a LOT of water, which it did.

City crews were quickly on the scene, shutting off valves (which can be persnickety after being open many years), arriving with equipment and materials - including porta-potties and bottled water for residents.

They obviously had a contingency plan and were fully prepared. It might have taken a business a few days just to get the necessary supplies and come up with a plan. City crews got busy, worked through the night and had the water restored before folks woke up. This morning, a skeleton crew was washing down the mud and vacuuming it out of storm drain catchments to keep it out of the creek. A business might have skipped some of that.

All in all, it was an impressive emergency response. Kudos to Public Works for a competent job well done.

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About Tip Johnson

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Oct 04, 2014

One side note:  When the City closed the intersection of 32nd with Old Fairhaven Parkway, traffic increased dramatically on Donovan, much of which has very poor pedestrian separations. The flood-related road closure was a noticeable respite from the speeds and volumes Donovan has suffered since becoming a de facto alternate State Route 11.

Just about the time the new section of pipe was getting loaded in the hole, a herd of college kids came coursing down the street between parties, including some young women on skateboards, gliding down the street, who offered,“This is great!”

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Barbara Perry

Oct 04, 2014

Great story and pictures Tip.  I came down the sidewalk about 4:30 p.m. and only knew there had been a flood because a fellow pedestrian told me why the street was closed.  It is amazing how much work the repair involved and how quickly the problems disappeared.

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Delaine Clizbe

Oct 04, 2014

I’m sorry Tip but I have to disagree with your analysis that businesses would not respond in like manner.  My husband has worked for the power company for 31 years.  I can’t tell you how many times he gets called out in the middle of the night to fix some problem.  They do have contingency plans for emergencies.  Silly to suggest otherwise…. 

Businesses, particularly utilities, do operate under laws of the state.  I would imagine that the COB does too.  COB would not be immune from fines from the DOE.  Businesses have the added incentive that when the meters are not turning they are not making money, so sure as heck they will be right on the problem. 

Since we do have property in the area, I want to thank the City of Bellingham for their quick work getting this issue fixed.  Kudos to them!

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Tip Johnson

Oct 04, 2014

Delaine,

Apples and oranges.  You are talking about regulated public utilities, not civil works contractors.  I’m just saying the City got it done faster than any contractor could have.  I didn’t suggest they could solve a power outage faster than the power company.

But try this:  Write Ford Motor Company and ask for some information.  Then write NOAA and ask for something.  Let me know who gets back to you first.

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Delaine Clizbe

Oct 05, 2014

Tip,
This time they responded quickly.

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Delaine Clizbe

Oct 05, 2014

Maybe we should be asking why this incident happened in the first place.  Perhaps it’s time to focus on our infrastructure and quit buying parks:)

PSE is a regulated utility that is owned by a private company.  They do expect to make a profit just like Ford Motor Company.

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John Servais

Oct 05, 2014

Lets get to the whole truth here.  PSE is guaranteed a profit by the state.  Indeed, PSE can spend as much as they like on repairs and emergencies - over spend - and then get a rate hike approved by the state to cover their costs plus profits.  Guaranteed.  Not like Ford motor company.  And of course the libertarian reply is GM got a government bailout - to which I say, yes, and they repaid it and we kept tens of thousands of jobs in the US. 

Comcast, PSE, Cascade Gas, Sanitary Service,  and other “private” companies with monopolies ensured by law and contracts with cities, counties and states are not your best examples of capitalism working to benefit America. 

Kudos to the city for promptly and professionally fixing the broken pipe.  Tip, as a former two term city council representative, is better prepared to answer your question why this pipe broke and how the city replaces infrastructure.

Gawd - a NWCitizen writer posts a positive article about a government agency and some readers just cannot handle it.  - for readers new to this site, I’m the publisher.

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Delaine Clizbe

Oct 05, 2014

John,
I have no problem that he was writing a positive argument about the government.  What I have a problem with is his over generalization about businesses.  Like I said, my husband is out many a night keeping the electricity running to your computer. 

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Tip Johnson

Oct 06, 2014

For those who find Delaine’s comments concise, constructive and intelligent, I would draw your attention to her candidacy for Charter Review Commisssion from District 1, among many other candidates:

Charter Review Commission District 1
Nonpartisan, 1 Year Term, Vote for up to Five
Todd Donovan
Delaine (De) Clizbe
Larry Helm
Dick Donahue
Bob Hall
Kent S. Murray
Stoney Bird
Bob Burr
Bruce Clawson
Tom Walstrom
Kevin Byford
Barbara Ryan
Michele Stelovich
Thomas Stuen
Eli Mackiewicz
Orphalee Smith
Nancy Metcalf
Anthony (Tony) Wallace
Alison (Alie) Walker

Don’t forget to vote!

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