L’Anse discusses potential change in service technicians

L’ANSE — Chris Chartier, the director of distribution services with WPPI Energy (WPPI), presented the Village of L’Anse trustees with a potential solution for linemen, the highly-trained workers who service electrical lines.

At the end of January 2019, Ontonagon County REA (REA) will end an agreement by which they provide 70 hours per month of service from their linemen. This deal has been in place for nine years, according to the village manager, Bob LaFave. LaFave said the village has contracted for linemen services since the mid-1990s, when the village had trouble keeping workers they trained from leaving the village’s employ for private companies.

“We might have struck a solution,” Chartier said at Monday night’s council meeting.

The villages of Baraga and L’Anse would make an agreement with WPPI to share two linemen between them. Baraga is also in need of linemen services, according to Chartier.

The villages would have to hire two people because of safety regulations. While their paychecks would come from WPPI, they would report to the village managers.

“They would be like employees of L’Anse,” Chartier said.

The villages would have to provide a place to park the trucks, as well as pay for those trucks and their equipment. However, the villages would also get more hours than they did from REA, maybe even enough to contract them out to other communities to defray the cost of employing them.

“You’ll have a safer, and more reliable, system,” Chartier said.

WPPI hasn’t entered any similar agreements before, and is following a model from another power cooperative out of state. The program needs approval from WPPI’s executive board before the agreement can be formally offered to the villages, but Chartier is optimistic that it will happen.

“I think we’re going to get a lot more bang for our buck,” Council President Ronald Ervast said.