PUD may buy Monroe air field to be its campus for east county

MONROE —  The PUD intends to purchase First Air Field to eventually turn it into a central campus for quicker storm outage responses up the Sky Valley and to be the area’s sole customer service office.
The utility has a real estate offer on the airfield northwest of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. It’s a 31-acre site.
Things are in the very early stages right now, PUD spokesman Aaron Swaney said last week. The PUD’s board is scheduled to discuss at its Feb. 6 commissioners meeting.
The campus project could open in five or so years, Swaney said.
It would centralize its utility trucks, and be the main office for area customers for East County.
The new site would replace the small offices in downtown Snohomish and Monroe, which the PUD sees as cramped and outdated. The Snohomish office on Rainier Avenue hasn’t been open as a public-facing site to pay bills since COVID. It is used by engineers and trucks are parked in the back.
First Air Field’s owner Daryl “Doc” Habich died in January 2022 at age 77. He was not only a dentist but a major community supporter.
The PUD had its first “Pre-Application” scoping meetings with city planners in 2022, a city planning department information sheet on recent activity states. No formal land use applications have been filed as of December 2023, the planning department wrote.
The utility sees an opportunity with centralizing.
Stationing crew trucks in Monroe will let the PUD respond quicker during the storm season, Swaney said.
“Our hardest hit areas for outages are in East County,” he said.
The PUD is doing the same centralization with a north center in Arlington near the Arlington Municipal Airport. That could open this summer and replace its small offices in downtown Stanwood and downtown Arlington.
When COVID closed public spaces, the PUD never reopened its small branches in Snohomish or Stanwood to the public.
These didn’t get much foot traffic to begin with, Swaney said.
A majority of people who use the small branches are customers who pay cash, Swaney said. While people can pay bills with check or credit card, about 200,000 households in Washington state do not have a bank account. This includes almost 20% of households earning less than $15,000, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC)
Other cash payers include marijuana growing operations which deal in cash-only, Swaney said.
The Snohomish drop box gets an average of 23 payments per day, and the Monroe and Arlington offices get about 35 walk-in customers per day, he said.
The PUD hasn’t decided whether it will put more payment drop boxes in towns, Swaney said last week.
The PUD determined in 2019 it should replace the small branches through a consolidation study.
“We can’t stand pat and continue to use these buildings,” he said.

More on PUD’s plan to buy Monroe airfield
March 6 Tribune:

MONROE — Seven months from today, the PUD hopes to have finished its purchase of First Air Field. The utility plans to use the site for a consolidated operations center.
The property is off of 179th Avenue SE northwest of the fairgrounds. After it takes ownership, the PUD plans to have a contractor continue airport operations for a short period of time to allow pilots to relocate their stored planes to other private hangars, according to a Feb. 20 presentation to the PUD board.
The PUD is currently conducting due diligence. The site is 34 acres, and the utility has a $7.15 million purchase and sale agreement on it. Its longtime owner died in 2022.
The future center would replace the offices in downtown Snohomish and Monroe, which the PUD sees as cramped and outdated.
The PUD is doing the same centralization with a north center on land near Arlington Municipal Airport.