Cash for CleanPowerSF could be used to cover Rim Fire costs 

The damage done by the historic Rim Fire to The City's far-flung water and power network will cost "tens of millions" of dollars to repair, and fixes must done before winter rains hit.

To pay for the work, The City could use cash intended for its controversial municipal power program, officials said Tuesday.

More than 3,000 firefighters are still working to fully contain the third-largest wildfire in California history, which has burned through more than 254,000 acres of forest in and around Yosemite National Park since it began Aug. 17.

Numerous city-owned assets were in the flames' path -- including Camp Mather, which remains closed but suffered no damage to buildings, and part of the 167-mile-long system of power lines, dams, pipes, reservoirs and powerhouses that delivers water to Bay Area residents and electricity to San Francisco's municipal buildings.

The quality of the Tuolumne River water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir remains unchanged, despite heavy smoke and some ash falling onto the surface.

The cost of fighting the fire has exceeded $100 million. Repairing the damage -- replanting trees and ensuring now-barren hillsides stay intact during winter rains -- will cost a still-unknown extra amount on top of that, incident command spokesman Rich Phelps said.

Some of that work will be The City's responsibility. It's hoped a $1 billion insurance policy, along with money from the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency will eventually cover those costs, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will have to pay in the short term for fixes that must be done before winter rains begin, SFPUC general manager Harlan Kelly said.

So far, the SFPUC has shelled out $900,000 to buy electricity after hydroelectric powerhouses in the fire's path were shut down as a precaution.

Crews are already at work felling damaged trees. Hillsides, roads, and 300 to 400 power line poles also will need to be fixed. Officials on Tuesday estimated the final bill would reach "tens of millions of dollars."

To cover the costs in the short term, the SFPUC can use the $19.5 million set aside for the CleanPowerSF program or other money intended for streetlight improvements or future capital projects.

It was not immediately clear what the insurance will cover, as there is no precedent in city history for filing a claim of this magnitude, SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said.

Officials were confident the fire damage would not result in higher water and power bills, but they could not make any guarantees.

In case of emergency

$1B City's insurance policy on Hetch Hetchy assets

$839K Annual premium on policy

Source: SFPUC

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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