Seattle City (spot)Light: Al Ferrara

Al Ferrara has served City Light the past three years as the Maintenance Manager at the utility’s Skagit Project. Hailing from Rochester in upstate New York, Al’s been an electrician most of his career. Ask him what he misses most about his hometown and he’ll quickly mention the food and the diversity. “New York is huge melting pot,” he said.

Al is also a proud father of four daughters. Since moving to Washington, he and his wife have become empty-nesters and spend their extra time wine tasting, exploring the PNW and cooking. “I love cooking pizzas,” he said. “My grill goes up to 1,000 degrees so I can cook a pie in minutes.” In this week’s (spot)Light, we chat with Al about life in Skagit and his role at the utility.

Al volunteers with the Whatcom Sheriff’s department (and, yes, he had to pass the Police Academy!)

“Part of my job is to work closely with the many country stakeholders like law enforcement, community leaders and the National Park Services. Because we’re so close to the Canadian border, we also deal with a ton of agencies, from homeland security and state patrol to Whatcom County and the Border Patrol. At Skagit, I oversee the warehouse, trades, grounds, General Store and Skagit Tours. A recent project we worked on is the bridge at Ladder Creek Falls. Our trade professionals hand-cut that bridge from cedar. The crews, the laborers, the carpenters, the right of ways…everyone worked hand in hand on that. It was a great project for us.”

“One of the perks to living here is dining at The Gorge Inn. I don’t eat there all the time, but when I do, it’s always a treat. They recently served an elk dish that was phenomenal. The Dam Good Chicken dinner is out of this world. The homemade desserts are incredible. I’ve never been too much of a pie person until I came here and tasted Washington state berries. Having our master chefs bake them in a pie has just been delightful.”

“The greatest ‘A-ha!’ for me in coming to work at City Light is the utility’s environmental impact. It’s something for which I’m very thankful—that the organization dedicates an entire division to the environment. At times, we’ll deal with things like invasive species. When that happens, our team will come in, mitigate and fix it. It’s just amazing and I get excited knowing I’m part of that team. We should be smiling about the work that we do.”

“There are great people at City Light. I try to help and mentor our employees. The piece of advice I always give is to enroll in a degree program so that when they’re done with their apprenticeship, they have that piece of paper as well. I went back to school at age 48. It was a big feat, but thank goodness I had my daughters to teach me study habits!”

See Skagit: Dam Good Chicken Dinner

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

Chris is a culinary force of the Gorge Inn at City Light’s Skagit Project

Meet Chris Gochenour. He’s part of the culinary team behind Skagit’s hottest dinner reservation—the immensely popular Dam Good Chicken Dinner. When he’s not cranking out chicken for hungry visitors, you can catch Chris serving up meals at the Gorge Inn, a dining hall in Newhalem that caters to City Light employees and workers. Chris recently sat down with us for a quick chat about cooking, chicken and tradition.

What attracted you to working in Skagit?
“Working at a national park. I used to work at Denali National Park as a head chef at one of the park’s lodges. I’ve always liked working in this type of environment so here I am.”

Can you share a little bit about the history of the area?
“There used to be a train that came up here in the early 1900s which allowed folks to see the landscape up here and enjoy the mountains. It also helped to promote the Skagit Hydroelectric Project and educate people about the dams.”

The Gorge Inn is a fixture at City Light’s Skagit Project

The Dam Good Chicken Dinner is longstanding tradition here at the Gorge Inn. Tell us about that.
“The dinner is a signature stamp of the Gorge Inn. It’s a tradition that goes back to the 1930s. When we cook this meal, we’re recreating the magic of the dinner that was served back then. A lot of people have passed through these doors JUST for this dinner. It’s cool to be part of its history—to serve a historic meal. It’s only featured in the summer so it’s in demand when the season comes around.

Dam Good Chicken Dinner is made especially at City Light’s Skagit Project

“The chicken itself is oven baked, but somehow, some way it looks like regular fried chicken. It’s breaded, buttered and cooked at a high temperature. It’s a recipe that has been passed down for generations. The dinner comes with a side of mashed potatoes which are cooked with rosemary and garlic. We also infuse thyme into the cream. Fresh green beans and homemade gravy complete the entrée.

Freshly baked Apple Blueberry pie—a specialty of the Gorge Inn

“Then there’s dessert. We bake a fresh pie each dinner. Our usual flavors are peach and apple blueberry—all locally sourced ingredients. We’ve also served other flavors; it just depends on the season.”

Tell us about the people who attend the Damn Good Chicken Dinner.
“A lot of people from the nearby campgrounds will plan the dinner as part of their trip. We have a lot of families. Other folks have heard about it in Seattle and make a little road trip out of it. Then, of course, there are those who book it as part of the Ladder Creek Falls tour, which makes for a great evening here.”

Can you describe the vibe of the Gorge Inn on these dinner nights?
“It’s friendly—a communal atmosphere. A lot of folks talk to one another. They meet new people sitting at their tables, talk about similar interests and learn what they might have in common. It always happens that a group will meet hiking on a trail and then they unexpectedly run into each other at the dinner.  Everyone is generally pretty happy by the end of the meal.” T

hank you, Chris, for providing a sneak peek of the “Skagit Magic” one can expect when visiting the Gorge Inn, an historic part of Seattle City Light’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project which provides clean, low-cost, renewable power to Seattle. To learn more or to secure your reservation for the Dam Good Chicken dinner, click here

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