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The Buckhorn

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Winters Express
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PG&E plugs
in to Winters


It’s official: new training facility will be built in Winters
By DEBRA DeANGELO
Express editor
After months of flirting with the Winters community, PG&E officials finally made their decision: the new gas line safety facility is coming to town.
PG&E officials turned in their planning application to City Hall on Monday, Oct. 6, and the formal announcement was made at the Oct. 7 city council meeting, in front of a council chambers so packed that the crowd spilled out into the foyer and onto the sidewalk.
“The application submission is one of many milestones. We’re here tonight to celebrate this milestone,” said Alisa Okelo-Odongo, PG&E’s manager of government relations.
Following a brief overview from PG&E program manager Tom Crowley, he announced that there was a big surprise for the council: A large blue box with a yellow ribbon was carried in, and the council members gathered around it. As soon as Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry tore open the top, bright blue and yellow helium balloons floated up, and she pulled out a framed “Home Sweet Home” image in a frame. Okelo-Odongo invited everyone present to sign the picture, which will hang in the lobby of the completed facility.
The city council had something in turn for PG&E, presenting representatives with a welcome mat. John Pickerel and his managers from The Buckhorn, Putah Creek Café and Catering by the Buckhorn also chimed in their support, and stood up holding cards that spelled out “Thank You, PG&E.”
City Manager John Donlevy offered “a very sincere welcome” to PG&E and said the construction of the facility will be “a renaissance in gas line safety and a huge economic development opportunity for the city of Winters.” Noting that much work lies ahead, he added, “the commitment we’ve made is that we’re going to be a great partner” to PG&E.”
“This is a great opportunity for the city of Winters, and a great opportunity for PG&E,” said Donlevy.
Aguiar-Curry and Council Members Wade Cowan and Woody Fridae also expressed their appreciation to both PG&E and city staff. Aguiar-Curry noted that PG&E’s president, Chris Jones, called her personally to tell her the good news that PG&E is coming to town, and expressed her appreciation that he took the time to do this, adding that the message was “heartfelt on both sides.”
“Now let’s get some dirt moving,” said Aguiar-Curry, announcing that a reception with cake for all would take place in the lobby before the remainder of the city council meeting commenced.
Project begins
Donald Cutler, PG&E spokesperson, confirming on Monday that the application for the new facility was turned in to City Hall that afternoon, says that once all the planning details are complete with city staff, he expects to break ground in the middle of next year. PG&E will purchase 35 acres for the project, which is located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 505 and Grant Avenue. The tentative designs that were previously viewed at several community workshops over the last year are undergoing some changes, and the classroom facility will be closer to the freeway than was originally planned.
“We will be working closely with the city and the community,” says Cutler. “We’ll have open houses and provide more information as the planning process moves forward. There will be plenty of time for questions and inquiries regarding the project, and we will make sure that voices are heard.”
In addition to a state of the art classroom facility, that is expected to attract gas line students from across the country year-round, the training facility will also have a construction area, where students can get hands-on experience with excavating equipment, repairs and welding, as well as workplace safety. Cutler says students will also learn about emerging technologies, as well as protocols to “enhance customer and employee safety, and system reliability.”
The entire project will cost approximately $75 million, which PG&E is funding entirely by itself. The projected date for finishing the complex after breaking ground is still undetermined.
“It will depend on a number of things going on,” says Cutler. “Once we have approval, then we’ll have the full scope of the project. We’re excited to get started.”
Although rumors that PG&E was considering other communities right up until the last moment floated around town, Cutler says PG&E officials finally decided that Winters is “the right place for us.”
“The location of the property was right, the community support was strong. We had an opportunity to make a meaningful and lasting impact on a community, and we thought that partnership was there with Winters.”
The question in many people’s minds was whether this training facility was part of the mitigation process for the San Bruno gas pipeline explosions in 2010, for which the Public Utilities Commission found PG&E to be at fault and issued heavy fines. However, Cutler says the answer is “a definitive ‘No,’ and adds that the decision to build the training facility at this time is “about the future.”
“Everything we do is focused on making sure that we become the safest and most reliable gas system in the entire country. We invest in safety and protocols, and employee training to give the best service that we can. Training is a very important aspect of that. You need to know how to use the best and newest stuff, and this is the place you’ll learn how to do it.”
Cutler expresses enthusiasm about the PG&E partnership with Winters.
“We’re really excited to move forward. This is going to be a great project for PG&E, and we hope it will be great project for Winters. We will be able to provide that 21st Century gas service our customers expect.”
Winters Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry expresses similar enthusiasm for the beginning of this new joint venture.
“It is very satisfying to see a project come to fruition after so much effort by so many,” says Aguiar-Curry. “I believe we will look back at this and see the pivotal importance of this accomplishment. The partnership with PG&E will yield many economic benefits to our businesses, schools and local government.”
Winters City Manager John Donlevy is also more than satisfied with the outcome.
“The project will be a real catalyst for the Winters community,” says Donlevy. “The training facility will be a destination for PG&E’s Gas Division workforce, which makes up almost 8,000 employees of the 20,000 employed by the company.”
He says the new training facility will be “state of the art,” not only for current technology but also for research and development in the future. He adds that the facility is expected to be a financial boon to the business community.
“This is a major economic development project for Winters. The facility will help create a lodging demand to support both a downtown and freeway hotel — lodging that has been important goals for the city.
“The prospect of having up to 250 trainees in town during the week will help our local business community and advance job creation. The multiplication of projects resulting from the facility will be substantial, and the growth and revenue to the city’s tax base will be meaningful.”
He adds that city staff are “excited and ready to work on implementing a great project for both PG&E and the Winters community,” and declares the project “a real win/win proposition for both.”
“The idea that Winters will be a part of PG&E’s advancement in both technology and safety in their gas division is exciting,” says Donlevy.
In upcoming weeks, Donlevy says a comprehensive schedule of the project’s development will be made public. He estimates that the planning and public review process will take approximately nine months. If all goes smoothly, everything should be good to go in August 2015.
He notes that although PG&E is purchasing 35 acres, the size of the actual project is approximately 30 acres. PG&E is expected to donate five acres of land adjacent to Putah Creek back to the city. Cutler says PG&E will be making necessary improvements in accordance with the city’s Storm Water Drainage Master Plan first, and once that is completed, intends to give the portion next to the creek back to the city for public use.