Topic: Seattle Public Utilities
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November 25, 2013 at 6:37 PM
The Mariners and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) are giving out free, Felix Hernandez-themed compost bins next week in hopes of that Seattle residents will cut down their holiday “wasteline.”
The “collector’s edition” kitchen caddies will be available at four locations Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to those who pledge to recycle and compost more of their trash, according to a utilities release. Those sites are:
- Seattle Tilth – Good Shepherd Center Room 107, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, Suite 100, Seattle 98103
- CleanScapes – 117 S. Main St., Suite 300, Seattle 98104
- SE Neighborhood Service Center – 3815 S. Othello St., Suite 105, Seattle 98118
- SW Neighborhood Service Center – 2801 S.W. Thistle St., Seattle 98106-1479
According to SPU, Seattle residents helped divert more than 125,000 tons of food scraps and yard debris from landfills through composting last year.
October 8, 2013 at 3:42 PM
UPDATE: 6:35 A.M. | City of Seattle crews restored water service to University Villages hortly after 2 a.m. today. A 16-foot section of pipe was cut out and a new piece was put in its place. The city is working on what caused the break.
Heading to Unversity of Washington? Planning to swing by University Village?
Better plan for a long commute after a major water main break this afternoon sent a 12-foot geyser of water gushing underneath the Northeast 45th Street Viaduct, flooded a portion of the U-Village parking lot and sent utility crews scrambling.
Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Andy Ryan said a 16-inch water main running along Northeast 45th Street broke, leaving an unknown number of homes without water. It also prompted the closure of the viaduct for about two hours.
Twitter posts by people living in Bryant, Laurelhurst and Ravenna indicated they were without water for a time.
The main was shut off amid concern the rushing water may have damaged the viaduct’s support columns. But structural engineers with the Seattle Department of Transportation inspected the columns and determined there were no structural issues.
Northeast 45th Street, between Montlake Boulevard and 22nd Avenue Northeast, was reopened at about 5 p.m.
Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said there was also concern of water damage to the electrical, security and fire sprinkler systems at U-Village.
The water did not reach inside stores at U-Village, but brown water was sent swirling throughout the parking lot where dozens of cars were parked.
However, the flood waters kept shoppers away. Banana Republic estimates it lost about $2,000 in sales because of the flood.
The sudden drop in water pressure on the University of Washington campus caused fire alarms to go off automatically in some buildings, prompting some students to evacuate, said UW spokesman Bob Roseth. UW buildings were not being evacuated because of the flooding, he said.
Officials at University Village declined to comment, saying the flooding was on city property.
Seattle Public Utilities warns customers they may see brownish water coming from their taps. This is common when there is a sudden change in the flow of water in the pipeline.
Discolored water comes from internal pipe rust and sediment getting stirred up. When this happens the water is still safe. However, the water may be unappealing, so utilities recommends customers wait until it clears before drinking it.
The water should clear on its own. Try running the cold water for a few minutes to see if it is clearing or still discolored. If the water does not clear, let the water sit for an hour. Then run the water for a few minutes and flush the toilet a couple of times, utilities says.
September 26, 2013 at 2:05 PM
A former employee of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) pleaded guilty this afternoon to 67 counts of theft for stealing more than $1 million from the utility in what is believed to be the largest embezzlement of public funds in modern King County history.
In his plea, Joseph Phan acknowledged his crimes were major economic offenses and and that a judge could sentence him to a longer term than the standard range of 3 1/2 to nearly 5 years in prison. Prosecutors told King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick that they would seek a sentence of 7 1/2 years.
Phan, 46, a project engineer for SPU, was arrested and charged with 70 counts of first-degree theft in March 2012. By that time, he had been fired from the utility.
Prosecutors said Phan diverted checks written to SPU from developers and homeowners for water-main extension projects and water-meter installations into his own private account. They say that in 2006, Phan opened a bank account in his name and that of the city and began depositing those customer payments. By January 2011, the checks totaled almost $1.1 million.
Phan used the money to buy a rental house, a car, other property, and pay off credit cards. Police seized $220,000 from a Phan bank account.
At the time of Phan’s arrest, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said the theft was the largest embezzlement of public funds in modern King County history.
“I don’t know what is more shocking, the sheer greed involved in this scam or the simplicity with which the defendant allegedly perpetrated this fraud,” Satterberg said.
The criminal charges against Phan came after a year of critical audits of the utility’s financial controls and the firing of five employees, including Phan, for improperly accessing and in some cases crediting their own utility accounts.
City records following his arrest showed Phan earned $77,488 in 2010 as a civil engineer. He had worked for the city since 1995 and was promoted to associate engineer in 2000. As part of his job, Phan had access to customer-service accounts so he could research and issue water-availability certifications to property owners and developers, according to the utility.
In 2010, Phan accessed his own residential account and that of a rental property to show payment when none had actually been made.
After Phan was fired, a developer contacted Phan’s manager to ask about the crediting of a previous deposit and provided a copy of the check. Phan’s manager could find no record of the check ever being deposited with the city.
SPU investigators eventually found copies of dozens of checks in Phan’s project files, and police ultimately established that all the checks had been deposited in Phan’s account and not the city of Seattle’s bank account, according to prosecutors.
Phan will be sentenced on Nov. 15.
November 19, 2012 at 6:04 PM
Heavy rainfall forced sewage to overflow into parts of Seattle and Everett today.
Everett got the worst of it as raw sewage from 10 of 12 sewer outfalls overflowed into the Snohomish River and Port Gardner Bay today. A sewer lift station also overflowed for about 55 minutes. The total amount of sewage spilled in the city isn’t known yet, according to a city release. The city’s website has a map of areas affected by the spill.
When Everett’s sewer system is overcapacitated, overflow is designed to discharge into the Snohomish River and Port Gardner Bay, according to a city release.
Untreated sewage also spilled into Seattle’s Meadowbrook Park this afternoon, according to the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. Stormwater and sewage pushed through a concrete sediment trap into the park’s pond and a nearby trail. The department says wastewater utility crews helped make the spill brief. Water quality will be monitored, and Seattle Public Utilities will post park area-closure signs soon, according to a department release.
August 21, 2012 at 9:06 AM
UPDATE 4:10 P.M.| Water service will be restored in the area between 10 p.m. and midnight tonight, when crews expect to have repaired the broken water main, said a Seattle Public Utilities spokeswoman. Traffic will continue to be impacted after the repair, though, as crews clean up extra water and mud until Wednesday night.
The following will be closed until cleanup is completed:
- One northbound lane and the eastern sidewalk of First Avenue South between South Holgate Street and Edgar Martinez Drive South
- South Massachusetts Street between South Occidental Avenue to First Avenue South
A cracked 16-inch water main is to blame for more than 1.1 million gallons of water flooding Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood this morning.
Seattle Public Utilities spokeswoman Ingrid Goodwin said the water main broke about 1 a.m. near First Avenue South at South Massachusetts Street.
Crews managed to shut off the main around 1:30 a.m. Some sections of roadway were under several feet of water for a time and several businesses were damaged, Goodwin said.
The cause of the broken main remains under investigation, Goodwin said.
Repair crews have closed down 1st Avenue in the area, which will likely cause traffic problems for those heading to tonight’s Mariners game.
“We’re going to be in the street until about 10 p.m. tonight.” Goodwin said.
June 29, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Garbage, sewer and drainage rates for Seattle residences would go up about 12 percent by 2015 under a proposal by Seattle Public Utilities. In 2016, garbage rates would go up another 1.6 percent.
The proposed increases were sent to the Seattle City Council this week and will be considered during budget deliberations in the fall.
The monthly cost of the three city services for a typical home would increase an average of $4.17 each year over the next three years, from $104.73 this year to $117.25 in 2015.
SPU officials say the proposed rate increases are needed to pay for major capital investments including building new waste-transfer stations and reducing chronic sewer overflows and stormwater pollution.
“With the tough economy, many of our customers, both residents and businesses, continue to operate on tight budgets and understandably expect the same fiscal discipline from local government,” SPU Director Ray Hoffman said. “We are committed to keeping our rate proposal as low as possible while maintaining our ability to deliver critical utility services.”
Last year, the City Council approved 23 percent increases in residential water rates by 2014. The largest commercial customers saw even bigger jumps.
In May, Seattle City Light proposed increases of 31 percent to electric bills over the next six years. That proposal must also be approved by the City Council.
March 13, 2012 at 9:51 AM
The city of Seattle has started civil litigation against Joseph Phan, the former Seattle Public Utilities project engineer charged in what authorities say is the largest embezzlement of public funds in recent King County history.
King County prosecutors have charged Phan, 44, with 70 counts of theft for allegedly stealing $1.1 million from the city. On Friday, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office jumped into the fray by filing a civil claim against Phan, accusing him of “civil fraud, conversion of City funds, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment,” according to a news release sent out by Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes.
The city, in its filing, has asked a King County Superior Court judge “to freeze all assets of the former Seattle Public Utilities engineer,” Mills wrote.
“Our goal is full financial recovery for ratepayers through swift and aggressive civil remedies,” Holmes said in the statement. “The county prosecutor will address the criminal consequences of Mr. Phan’s conduct.”
Phan remains in the King County Jail on $750,000 bail. He is slated to be arraigned on March 19.
March 6, 2012 at 12:49 PM
A former Seattle Public Utilties project engineer was charged today with 70 counts of theft for allegedly stealing nearly $1.1 million by diverting customer checks from water main extension projects into a private bank account.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said it is the largest embezzlement of public funds in modern King County history. “I don’t know what is more shocking, the sheer greed involved in this scam or the simplicity with which the defendant allegedly perpetrated this fraud.”
Joseph Phan, 44, was charged with 67 counts of first-degree theft and three counts of second-degree theft. First-degree theft can carry a maximum prison sentence of ten years, but a standard range of 43 to 57 months in prison. He remains in jail in lieu of $750,000.
Prosecutors filed two special allegations in order to seek an exceptional sentence above the standard range. They argue that the thefts are a major economic offense and that Phan used his position of trust to facilitate the crimes, according to a statement released by the Prosecutors Office.
Police seized about $220,000 from Phan’s bank account. Investigators believe he also used the stolen funds for the down payment of a rental house, a car and to pay down credit card debt.
Investigators also are searching for other bank accounts where funds might have been transferred, according to the statement.
Phan was fired by SPU in February 2011 for accessing his own utility account and entering payments which were never made. In December he agreed to pay a $1,500 fine levied by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission for using a city position for personal gain.
March 6, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Seattle City Councilmembers today called for an independent audit of Seattle Public Utilities’ financial practices in the wake of the arrest of a former employee on suspicion of stealing $1 million in developer payments for water main extensions.
City Councilwoman Jean Godden, chair of the Libraries, Utilities and Center Committee, asked the Seattle City Auditor to review financial controls that could be subject to high-risk transactions such as water main accounts.
Godden warned that there would be no discussion of utility rate increases until SPU got its financial house in order. As part of the 2012 budget, the Council approved a nearly 25 percent rate increase through 2014.
“In these tough economic times, we need to safeguard ratepayers funds,” Godden said.
Joseph Phan is expected to be charged with multiple counts of first degree theft by the King County Prosecuting Attorneys Office today. He is being investigated by Seattle police for diverting funds into a personal bank account between 2006 and 2011, when he was fired for adjusting his own utility bill.
Melina Thung, SPU deputy director for finance, said Phan presented contracts for water main extensions to customers for payment, rather than sending out an invoice. He then collected the payments and deposited them into an account he opened in his name and that of the City of Seattle.
Thung said the utility has taken immediate steps to change the process by which contracts and invoices for water main extensions are handled to ensure that invoices are issued by the utility and that checks are submitted to accounts receivable.
Councilmembers also asked what other lines of business at the utility and throughout city government might be vulnerable to abuse. The Council in 2011 added an auditor dedicated specifically to SPU and Seattle City Light.
City Auditor David Jones said SPU does about $800 million a year in business and Seattle City Light about $900 million. Previous city and state audits did not review the Project Engineering and Management Division, for which Phan worked.
Councilmembers asked Jones and SPU officials to report back with an action plan at the committee’s April 3 meeting.
December 7, 2011 at 7:10 PM
The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission added a sixth city utility employee to its disciplinary action Wednesday in an ongoing investigation of bill fixing.
Last week, the Commission announced that it had reached settlement agreements with four current and one former employee who admitted that they had made adjustments to their own or a family member’s utility bill, in violation of city ethics rules.
Seattle Public Utilities announced the same day that it was firing three employees and disciplining another for falsifying payment records, waiving late fees or arranging for extended payment plans. Most of the employees were customer service representatives with access to utility and electric accounts.
On Wednesday, the Ethics Commission accepted the recommendations of director Wayne Barnett to impose fines ranging from $300 to $2,000 on the five for violating city rules that prohibit employees from using their position for personal gain.
In addition to the five cases previously announced, the Commission added that of Sharon Howard, a former account representative who left the city earlier this year. Howard admitted to setting up payment plans for herself and her parents for which they were not eligible and not making timely payments.
She also deducted $120 in late charges from her parents’ City Light account in 2008. She was fined $2000 by the Ethics Commission.
SPU fired two other employees earlier this year who were found to be accessing their own accounts and lowering their bills.
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The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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