Wyden, Merkley: Eugene Water and Electric Board to Receive More than $1 Million for Crucial Updates

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced that the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) has earned a $1.14 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to harden the power grid in areas that were devastated in recent years by ice storms and wildfire.

This is a public safety issue. The 2020 Labor Day fires as well as recent ice storms have reinforced the need for a significant investment in a resilient power grid,” Wyden said. “With another dry summer imminent, I’m heartened to see federal dollars going to Oregon communities to harden our aging power grid.

“From being forced indoors by thick blankets of hazardous smoke, to loved ones lost and leveled homes and businesses—every Oregonian has been impacted by the intense destruction of catastrophic wildfires,” said Merkley. “The last thing we need during a dry, hot summer is sparks flying from power lines and starting more blazes. I’m gratified that this investment is coming to McKenzie River communities so we can help prevent that from happening, and will continue to do all that I can to tackle the root causes of these wildfires—climate chaos—and to secure the federal funding we need to keep all Oregonians safe.”

The $1.14 million grant from FEMA will cover 75 percent of the costs for the EWEB Utility Hardening Project. The grant will fund the reframing and rewiring of the overhead power lines to a more resilient format. The funds will also go toward burying power lines, which protects against outages caused by natural disasters and significantly reduces fire danger from fallen power lines. More than 4,000 Oregonians will benefit from upgrades made by the project.

“We have experienced ice storms, snow storms, and a major 170,000 acre wildfire in the past four years, disrupting electric service to almost 30% of the 200,000 people we serve and damaging the watershed of our sole drinking water source,” said Frank Lawson, CEO and General Manager of Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), Oregon’s largest public utility. “Not only has FEMA been instrumental in our recovery from these catastrophic events, the administration has provided essential funding for preventative measures that increase our future resiliency.”

Wyden and Merkley also have introduced the Disaster Safe Power Grid Act, which would ensure that power companies do their part to reduce the risks of power blackouts and wildland fires through power system upgrades, fire and disaster safety equipment installation, and proper vegetation management.