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Two seats up for grabs in Whatcom Public Utility District election

Three primary candidates run for District 2 seat, two candidates for District 1 advance to general

By Julia Tellman Local News Reporter

This election reporting is provided free to all readers as a public service by your locally owned Cascadia Daily News. Thanks for supporting truly local news by donating to CDN or subscribing here.

Three candidates are vying for the District 2 seat on the Whatcom County Public Utility District Commission in the primary election, while two others will advance to the general election in the District 1 race.

The Whatcom PUD, founded in 1937, focuses on water, broadband and electricity infrastructure in the county and is governed by a board of three commissioners, who establish policy, set rates, adopt system plans, approve budgets and appoint the general manager. The PUD does not collect taxes — rather, it is supported by revenue from its utility customers. 

The Port of Bellingham and PUD share commissioner districts. District 2 encompasses the northeastern portion of the county, while District 1 spans the southeast half of the county. District 3 to the west includes Blaine, Birch Bay, Ferndale, Point Roberts and Lummi Island. 

The PUD is the county’s largest water processor, holding the rights to 53 million gallons per day and selling nearly double the water of any other PUD in the state. The organization serves only one external electric customer, the Phillips 66 refinery in Cherry Point, in addition to its own water treatment plants.

Incumbent and Commission Vice President Atul Deshmane is running to keep his seat representing District 2 of the PUD. Deshmane is an engineer with decades of experience in renewable energy and clean transportation solutions. His government experience began with a stint on the county planning commission before he was elected to the PUD in 2018. 

Atul Deshmane

Deshmane said when he began serving on the PUD, the public’s loudest call was for broadband, followed by green energy and local control of the power supply. The organization now has a partnership with the Port of Bellingham to expand broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas in Whatcom County with federal and state grants.

“I have the experience and the qualifications,” Deshmane answered when asked what differentiates him from the other two candidates. “If you want to hire someone, that’s what you want, right? No organization has shifted more profoundly in the last six years than the PUD. It’s a night and day difference, so why would you get rid of someone who was responsible for that change?” 

Some future projects Deshmane is excited about include exploring a geothermal power source near Mount Baker, considering the possibility of municipalization of Puget Sound Energy’s electric grid, and playing a role in the Nooksack Basin water adjudication process that will allow the community to adapt to climate change. 

“We’ve proposed to fund education, training and resources for adjudication in a manner to avoid disenfranchisement,” Deshmane said. “It’s a big challenge to participate for a small business that’s not set up for a legal battle to defend its water rights.” 

District 2 candidate Austin Anderson grew up in Whatcom County, with a background in civil construction project management. In a recorded interview with the League of Women Voters of Bellingham-Whatcom County, Anderson said what sets him apart is his willingness to hear all ideas. He said he doesn’t approach a topic with preconceived notions and likes to think outside the box.  

Austin Anderson

When it comes to utilities, Anderson said he wants to ensure the public has options and doesn’t want people to be “shoehorned into one form of utility,” because the issues and concerns for a downtown Bellingham resident versus a farmer in the county are different. 

The third candidate for District 2, Dan Johnson, graduated from Meridian High School and served in the Marine Corps for four years before building a successful towing business. He has also worked with legislators in Olympia to draft and pass bills. In his voter’s guide profile, Johnson said he has volunteered with organizations such as Lydia Place, Blue Skies for Children, Meridian Boosters, American Legion, Young Life and VFW. 

Dan Johnson

“My goal is to maintain sustainable energy sources for Whatcom County that pull from all resources available so we can continue to provide equitable energy for farming, residential and industry while upholding our conservation values,” Johnson said in his profile. 

In 2022, Johnson made an unsuccessful bid for the state House of Representatives. During an interview with CDN at the time, Johnson apologized for a 2020 social media post he had made that compared Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews to vaccine requirements in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The District 1 seat is currently held by Todd Lagestee, who was appointed in May 2024 to complete the term of Christine Grant. Two candidates, Eddy Ury and Jeremiah Goggins, will be on the ballot in November.

Julia Tellman writes about civic issues and anything else that happens to cross her desk; contact her at

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