Safeguarding Skagit: Inside the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade

City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project provides clean and efficient energy to Seattle’s customers, and its idyllic location provides spectacular, Instagram-worthy views of the North Cascades and Diablo Lake. Being nestled in such a remote location does have its advantages, but it can also provide its share of challenges when minutes count. During an emergency—whether someone has a bump or bruise during a dam tour or is involved in a serious traffic accident on the North Cascades Highway—a team of City Light employees take action, changing from their daily roles at the utility to act as members of the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade.

For almost 60 years, this mostly volunteer group of first responders has gone above and beyond their assigned work duties at City Light to safeguard the residents and property of City Light, the Skagit Project and the North Cascades National Park. Fire Brigade Chief Cody Watson explains “the brigade fights fires and provides an emergency response like a typical fire department would; there are situations that require backup.” That’s why in 2008, a specialized group called the Skagit Technical Response Team (STRT) was created to supplement the brigade and provide aid during unusual rescue situations. Like the brigade, STRT is a team of City Light employees who are trained beyond their day-to-day skills.

In 2016, the brigade was crucial to the containment of the Goodell Creek Fire, which severely threatened the Skagit Hydroelectric Project and the surrounding communities. For Watson, an emergency of any size is important because of the brigade’s local impact.

“We have helped friends, family, co-workers and strangers who are often having the worst day of their lives,” says Watson. “The brigade provides services that no one else in this geographical area can. When the fire alarm goes off, they have to switch gears and put on a different hat. We have a pretty extraordinary team up here.”

Last November, the fire brigade added a new vehicle to their fleet, a state-of-the-art ambulance. The new vehicle replaced a unit that had been in service for nearly 25 years. Watson and the brigade worked closely with the City Light Fleet and Mobile Equipment team to build a unit that meets their unique needs. Some of the unique features include snow chains that engage with a flip of a switch, a hydraulic lift and cabin airbags to protect first responders when treating a patient.

Thank you, Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade, for keeping the City Light employees and its visitors safe!

 

Experience the majestic beauty of the North Cascades next summer on a Skagit Tour. Skagit Tours provide a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. Visit https://www.seattle.gov/light/damtours/skagit.asp for more information!

City Light Completes Repairs on Newhalem Penstock

A Seattle City Light contractor recently completed a year long project at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project to replace 52 deteriorating, wooden saddles that support the Newhalem Penstock. The old wooden saddles were replaced with new, cast-in-place concrete saddles that will provide structural support so that the penstock will not collapse.

Original wooden saddles (left image) that support the Newhalem Penstock were replaced with new, concrete saddles (right image).

The Newhalem Penstock is located on the south bank of the Skagit River, in the town of Newhalem, WA. The project is within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex.

The penstock is a pipe that provides water from the creek to the hydro turbines that are located inside the historical Newhalem Powerhouse. The water turns the turbines, which produces electricity for City Light.

Seattle City Light thanks all campground visitors for their patience during the successful completion of this project.

Learn about this project and others by visiting Seattle City Light’s “At Work in Your Neighborhood” website.

See Skagit: Diablo Lake Boat Tour

This summer, see the many places and meet the many faces of Skagit.

Tre on the new Alice Ross IV boat

Meet Tre Nabstedt. He’s one of three boat captains that takes you aboard Skagit Tour’s Alice Ross IV boat for an unforgettable cruise on Diablo Lake. This summer will mark his second season showcasing the incredible splendor of the area—from the distinctive turquoise color of the glacier-fed lakes to the architectural marvels of City Light’s Diablo and Ross dams. Tre recently sat down with us for a quick chat about Diablo Lake Boat Tours and what he enjoys most about working in the heart of Mother Nature.

Can you tell us a little about the Skagit Tours on Diablo Lake?
“Right from the beginning, people can expect to see a really nice glimpse of the natural beauty that lives here in the North Cascades. You get out on the water, see different wildlife and learn some fun facts about the lake, the surrounding mountains and glaciers, along with the fish and river ecosystems.

The tour also provides a more in-depth look of the natural systems and fascinating history of how the hydroelectric project was built and operated from the start of J.D. Ross’s vision up until today. It’s a pretty rewarding experience.”

A unique view of Ross Dam, one of three power generating developments at City Light’s Skagit Project

What type of wildlife is typically spotted?
“We see a ton of bald eagles, a lot of different species of ducks. You’re likely to see fish jumping out of the lake. You may see a deer, a black bear, or a mountain lion…there is SO much life up here.”

You never know what you’ll see in the North Cascades. This black bear was spotted during a Diablo Lake Boat Tour.

Who usually joins the tour?
“There’s always a great mix on board. Everyone from newlyweds and families to tour groups and retirees. Occasionally, folks will return to the tour and bring someone they want to share the experience with. It’s a great thing to give as a gift. We’ve also had a few multi-generational groups where grandparents bring grandchildren, which is always fun. It’s an easy day trip that pleases everyone.”

What are the common reactions people have when cruising the lake?
“I would say awestruck. People are completely amazed by the beauty. They’re generally very captivated. I never see bored faces.”

What attracted you to this job?
“By nature, I’m a mountain AND an ocean lover. We’re not on the ocean, but we’re still surrounded by this incredible water. I feel pretty lucky to spend my summers in Skagit…on a boat…up in the mountains. I love it.”

A stunning vista of Diablo Lake

Thank you, Tre, for providing a sneak peek of the “Skagit Magic” one can expect aboard! Seattle City Light has been offering the popular Diablo Lake Tour for more than 80 years, educating the community about the utility’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project which provides clean, low-cost, renewable power to Seattle. To learn more or to book the tour, click here.

Seattle City (spot)Light: Barb Haight and Kelly Regan

Visitors to the town of Newhalem in the North Cascades inevitably end up in the Skagit General Store, a welcoming supply point in that rugged locale for nearly a century. Newhalem was established as a company town in 1917 by Seattle City Light. Shortly afterward, the general store opened to provide food and supplies to City Light’s workforce in Newhalem and later to the nearby hamlet of Diablo. Over the last 95 years, the Skagit General Store evolved from a company store to a public operation, offering food, dry goods and its highly-regarded fudge to the populace. In the summer, 180 pounds of fudge are sold there every week!

If you’ve visited the Skagit General Store in the last decade, you’ve most likely met one of two unofficial ambassadors for City Light behind the counter. Barb Haight, the store keeper, has worked there for 11 years; Kelly Regan, the store clerk, has worked in the store for nine. The duo has known each other since grade school, and their respect and affection for one another is infectious; the mood inside the Skagit General Store is usually jovial and warm. We caught up with Barb and Kelly for this week’s Seattle City (spot)Light.


Store Keeper Barb Haight and Store Clerk Kelly Regan

Barb: “The store opened in July 1922. It started as a commissary. Employees would call the store and have meat cut to their specifications and the meat would be delivered to their homes. Bread was sold in the store, which is why old timers still refer to visiting the store as going on a ‘bun run.’”

Kelly: “My grandfather Elvie Barnett retired from the store. He was the store keeper in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and he actually lived in J.D. Ross’ old house in Diablo. As a kid, I thought it was a huge home, and I used to ride my tricycle around the wrap-around porch. When I went back as an adult, it seemed so little! Of course, when I was a kid I had no idea of the uniqueness of the place.”

“I happened to be in Newhalem for my birthday one year, and I ran into Barb in the store. Not much had changed. A picture that I remembered from my childhood was still on the wall. I told her that if she ever needed somebody, I would be happy to work there!”

Barb: “I took her up on it. Sure, we went to school together in Concrete, and we had kept up with each other through our kids (our daughters are the same age), but we reconnected over this place. Now they call us Thelma and Louise.”

Kelly: “We really take pride in our job here. We love our customers and we have built quite a clientele. The store has history for lots of people, going all the way back to the Dam Good Chicken Dinner which has always been served next door [at the Gorge Inn] for tours. Now we are known for our fudge. Some people come through once or twice a week.”

Barb: “Some only come through once or twice a year, but we are always happy to help them, and they often remember us. We want people to feel at home. As far as we are concerned, we’re the face of City Light here. The first place any visitor to Newhalem goes is to the general store. When we get questions about why Seattle City Light is in the North Cascades, we get out a placemat that explains the dams and what’s going on up here.”

Kelly: “We’re always trying to build a connection with our visitors. I think the friendly atmosphere and the history of the place makes it something special.  And Barb and I do good work together. I love my job and what we do here. I’m employed by the city of Seattle, but I get to work in this gorgeous place! How cool is that?”

City Light steps down emergency fire response

Seattle City Light is reducing its emergency response operation to the Goodell Creek fire that threatened its facilities in the Skagit Valley.

As of noon today, the utility shut down its 24-hour department operations center in Seattle and will run the disaster response out of Newhalem.

The fire is still active, but it is not moving directly against City Light facilities.

Between Wednesday and today, winds, temperatures and dry conditions forced the evacuation of the town of Diablo and the shutting down of generation and transmission.

All staff and their families are accounted for and have alternate accommodations in Concrete, Sedro Woolley, Wenatchee and Brewster. Nobody has been injured.

Two of the three powerhouses are still off line, with Gorge powerhouse running power only to Newhalem and other local facilities. A helicopter survey yesterday showed that at least six of our transmission towers and their lines were affected by the fire. We are preparing materials and staff to stabilize the terrain and make repairs as soon as it is safe.

We are actively monitoring the situation and stand ready to relocate staff to safety if the fire worsens.

For updates, follow us on Twitter at @SEACityLight