Jennifer and Mark Ludeman on March 27, 2018. Photo: Chas Hundley

VERNONIA - The next election for the West Oregon Electric Co-op ends August 20, and for those members of the co-op in district 7 (which includes portions of Manning/Buxton, the Hagg Lake area, and rural Yamhill County), there’s one choice on the ballot this year: Buxton resident Mark Ludeman. 

The post is currently held by rural unincorporated Yamhill County resident Larry Heesacker, who lives west of Carlton and is owner and president of A-1 Logging. Heesacker is not seeking re-election.

Ludeman, 67, has lived with Jennifer Ludeman, his wife of 47 years at their property north of Buxton, Oasis in Nature, for 15 years. 

He has four adult children and one grandchild.

The Ludeman’s are perhaps best known for their former specialty retail store in Beaverton, also called Ludeman’s, which was built from scratch and eventually employed 25 people. The business closed in 2016 after the Ludeman’s retired from that business and began focusing on their property and retreat center, working in a variety of natural healing practices and renting out campsites and rooms at their farm to visitors. 

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He’s now turning his expertise toward the utility co-op, which sits near or at the top of electric co-op rates in Oregon. 

“They need help,” he said, before walking through the high costs and his worry that West Oregon is going broke. 

“We’re not on a sustainable path. It’s so expensive, it’s crazy,” he said. 

Because the co-op service area is rural, fragmented into non contiguous territory, and in an area of rough terrain with few large commercial customers, Ludeman thinks that the status quo cannot be maintained. 

And he’s worried that the co-op could raise rates on top of the already high costs. 

Other challenges include some customers switching to renewable energy options such as solar.

One option, Ludeman said, is for the co-op to sell portions — or perhaps the whole customer base — of their territory to other electric utility companies, an idea floated by petitions circulated in the past in parts of the WOEC territory. It was these petitions, Ludeman said, that first brought him to the idea of running for the board.

A voting packet is slated to be mailed to WOEC members on Friday, July 31, and members will have from August 1 to August 20 at 11 a.m. to cast their vote,  Billi Kohler, Administrative Services Manager for WOEC said in an email to the Banks Post. 

In the packet, Kohler said, are instructions on voting electronically or by mail, along with a unique PIN for use on the West Oregon Electric Co-op website when the voting page goes live on August 1. 

“The election results will be announced at the Annual Meeting which will be held virtually on Saturday August 22nd,” said Kohler. 

The annual meeting link will be posted on the WOEC homepage on August 22 for members to login with their WOEC account information to watch live. Those who do not have access to the meeting electronically can also call the number listed in their voting packet to listen to the meeting via phone. 

Those who live in Timber and other parts of Buxton are served by WOEC district 5, a position currently held by Erika Paleck, who was elected in 2019. That position, according to Paleck, will be up for election again in 2022. 

But for district 7, Ludeman, as the sole candidate, will take office after the election and swearing in process is completed. 

“It’s a labor of love,” he said.