Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seattle's Far Reach for Resources

Will and I headed east across the mountains via the passes over the North Cascades on Highway 20. Just west of Newhalem, I took this picture of the electric transmission lines that connect the Upper Skagit River hydroelectric projects with the electrical grid.

The upper Skagit hydroelectric projects are operated by Seattle City Light. Far sighted Seattle leaders looked far and wide for resources to support the city well into the future. Seattle's drinking water source is far from the city in the Cascade Range and is gated and guarded to protect the resource. Seattle also recognized very early the importance of electric power and sought out sites for hydroelectric energy far from the city. The upper Skagit was one of two major hydro electric projects the city developed - the other was even further away on the Pend Oreille River in the northeast corner of the state.

Seattle's foresight in a manner established the city as the great city of of the Northwest. The dams on the upper Skagit are in Whatcom County. I have sometimes referred to Seattle City Light as the great colonial empire of Washington State as they managed to tap into resources for their own use from areas far from the city. The foresight of Seattle leaders over a century ago regarding drinking water, electricity, port facilities and rail roads has played a profound role in the shaping of Washington State. Seattle leaders showed some short sighted views regarding transit. They waited a very long time to develop public transit systems and that delay has added substantially to the costs of the projects now moving forward. Makes one wonder about which communities have foresight today and what we should be thinking about in terms of the future.  

3 comments:

Alan said...

Re: 'They waited a very long time to develop public transit systems'

Actually Seattle was over-early, buying the streetcar system from Stone & Webster long before public ownership was an obvious or necessary option.

Unfortunately, they did a sloppy job of it, valuing the system on the basis of what they had just spent for a new line, while what they were buying was quite rundown & not worth remotely as much.

They also thought they were buying the substations & power distribution systems, but it turned out they hadn't.

Burdened with debt service costs that were outrageously high, the Municipal Railway was a perpetual financial burden, suffering from deferred maintenance & periodically paying employees in scrip which the banks were required to honor, hoping for eventual reimbursement by the city.

In the late thirties, when it would have made transportation sense to rehabilitate & upgrade the well-trafficked lines, instead they were pushed by the financial community into converting entirely to trolley buses.

The bankers in the 1960s still remembered the pains of the street railways, and they were responsible for the failure of the rail transit proposals in that era, and even later.

DaveOnFidalgo said...

Does anyone remember "Forward Thrust" from around 1968? When that bond issue was defeated, Seattle decided a domed stadium was a greater need than public transportation. It's been all down-hill from there.

Dan McShane said...

Great feed back on this. I initially simply wanted to to point out Seattle was not far sighted on public transit to tone down the areas the city did well. Clearly a long story on how the City of Seattle has maneged public transit

Thanks!