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Hard feelings surface over choice of Xcel

ELLSWORTH — Was Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services treated fairly when selecting an electrical company for the new Pierce County Jail? That was a question Pierce County Board Supervisor Dean Bergseng of River Falls asked Ad Hoc Jail Planning & Specifications Development Committee members at the Dec. 22 Pierce County Board meeting.

The Ad Hoc Committee voted 3-2 Nov. 17 to choose Xcel Energy as the electric provider for the new jail. Letters from attorney Justin W. Chasco (representing Pierce Pepin), Pierce Pepin CEO and president Larry Dokkestul, and attorney Mara Koeller Ascheman (representing Northern States Power Co. or Xcel) were included in the committee packet, available for public viewing under the Jail Project tab on the Pierce County website.

The letters addressed Pierce County’s right to choose its electric service provider for the new jail. Xcel claimed its company has an exclusive “indeterminate permit to provide retail electric service in the Village of Ellsworth” and has been providing service to the area since 1897. It also stated that Xcel has provided service to the parcel where the new jail will be built since 1996.

Pierce-Pepin stated that because both providers “could provide service with a secondary voltage extension,” the county has a right to choose its electric provider. Pierce Pepin maintains that any area annexed to a city or village after Jan. 1, 1961, may choose another provider if a primary or secondary voltage extension can be made to the annexed area. According to the letter, the village annexed the parcel and surrounding areas on April 1, 1983.

Bergseng said after the meeting that he was not insinuating that Pierce Pepin wasn’t treated fairly in the Ad Hoc Committee’s decision. He brought the question up simply for discussion and to make sure all parties involved were treated fairly. County Board Chair Jeff Holst confirmed County Board members received a letter from Pierce Pepin in December expressing its disappointment at not being selected.

‘Treated fairly’

Supervisor Jon Aubart of River Falls, and chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, said electrical providers had opportunities to submit written proposals for the new jail and were given discussion time at the Ad Hoc meeting.

“I think they were absolutely treated fairly,” Aubart said. “Because we didn’t have to allow any discussion.”

Supervisors and Ad Hoc Committee members Michael Kahlow, Brian O’Connell and Scott Bjork echoed Aubart’s opinion. O’Connell said similar rebate potential was provided by both Xcel and Pierce Pepin, but Pierce Pepin has a front end connection fee, while Xcel doesn’t.

“I saw no compelling reason to change service providers,” O’Connell said. Xcel is the current provider to the jail site.

Bjork echoed that while it was a close vote, there was nothing standing out on either side to make him unhappy with the final decision, though he voted against Xcel.

O’Connell added the committee is motivated to settle factors such as electrical providers quickly so the county can get the project out to bid on a strict timeline.

Supervisor Jerry Kosin of Prescott said he is “not too happy” about Pierce Pepin’s December letter and has requested a meeting with Pierce Pepin President/CEO Larry Dokkestul.

Holst said he doesn’t feel a board response to the letter is necessary as the Ad Hoc Committee responded with its vote.

Dokkestul said in an email Tuesday:

“On Nov. 17, the Ad Hoc Jail Committee exercised their right of customer choice selecting Xcel as the electric provider for the new jail rather than Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services. “Representing Pierce Pepin, I and Chairman of the Board, Roger Wiff mailed a letter to each of the County Board of Supervisors simply inquiring on what merits the committee made their decision.

“I want to make it clear, Pierce Pepin is not challenging the decision, we are only looking for the factors that influenced their decision.

“Pierce Pepin has and will continue to support Pierce County at every opportunity and we deeply appreciate the working relationship we have with the members of the County Board of Supervisors, Committees, County employees and their respective departments. We all strive together to make Pierce County a great place to live and work.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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