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Utilities implement rolling blackouts

JONESBORO — As more winter weather hit Northeast Arkansas on Wednesday, some Craighead County residents had to face not only hazardous road conditions, but a loss of electricity.

Monty Williams, vice president of marketing and communications for Craighead Electric Cooperative, said the demand for electricity was at an all time high late Tuesday night.

“We were at 171 megawatts Tuesday night,” he said. “The last time we were anywhere near that amount was Jan. 2018, and we were at 152 megawatts.”

Williams said representatives with Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas contacted Craighead Electric to implement a rolling blackouts strategy.

“By the time we got it typed up and sent out, Trumann (substation) was out,” he said.

Two other substations were affected by the blackout; Earl and South Jonesboro substations.

Williams said Tuesday night’s rolling blackouts lasted an hour in most locations.

“We are hoping this is just a one time deal,” he said, noting the situation is still critical.

Williams said Wednesday morning, there was about 141 megawatts being utilized. “Usage dropped considerably,” he added.

Rob Roedel, director of Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, said Tuesday night’s directive was a first.

“In my career, never have I issued curtailments in the winter time,” he said. “This is a historic event, although not a popular historic event.”

There are two main factors affecting the power grids, he said.

“The first being the extreme near-record cold temperatures not only in Arkansas but in other states,” he said. “The other is an inadequate fuel supply for natural gas-based generator power plants.”

Although the state has contracted with alternative sources of power that feed energy into the grid, Roedel said those are being affected as well.

“We have five different agreements with wind farms, and 16 solar projects,” he said. “Right now those solar panels are not getting much sunlight so they are not generating much power. The turbines to the windmills are also freezing up and not able to turn.”

Craighead Electric Cooperative was not the only local utility company that received notification to decrease pressure on the powers grids.

Kevan Inboden, special projects administrator for City Water and Light, received a directive by Entergy, the company’s local balancing authority, to drop some of the load on the grid temporarily.

“The area we chose was in eastern Jonesboro, which were mostly industrial loads,” Inboden said.

Inboden said turning off power is never an easy decision.

“We tried to keep residential customers on that use electric to heat their houses,” he said. “Some gas wells have frozen over so they are unable to produce natural gas.”

The CWL representative wanted to assure residents there is no problem with the system.

“This was an issue outside of the system of Jonesboro, but it was somewhere on the grid,” Inboden said.

As utility companies have tried to decrease the overloaded power grids, the City of Jonesboro has faced its own issues this week.

Bill Campbell, director of communications, said street crews have continued the same work they have all week.

“We are clearing primary arterials, and then doing it over again,” he said. “We have eight trucks in action.”

Campbell said with it still snowing, there is not much else to be done.

“If we put down sand, it will just be shoveled off,” he added.

Campbell said residents are also facing trash pile up, because city officials have shut down the sanitation department until the hazardous road conditions are not a factor.

The city released a statement on its Facebook page urging residents to be patient.

“Sanitation relies on two things,” the release stated, “reliable street conditions, and Legacy Landfill being open.”

Campbell said Wednesday that neither of those conditions exist.

“Our plan is to resume (sanitation routes) on Friday,” he said. “On Saturday we will run Thursday’s routes.”

Randy Pugsley, owner of Laredo Grocery and Grill, took advantage of the brief respite in weather Tuesday to clear the parking lot so customers could grab a few essentials. “I went to Sam’s Club on Monday night to make sure we had plenty of eggs and plenty of milk,” he said. More heavy snow was forecast through 6 p.m. today and may mix briefly with sleet and freezing rain at times. Total snow and sleet accumulations of 4 to 6 inches are possible.

Back breaking

Frank Rogers spent a few moments Tuesday airing up the tires on his ATVs so his family could enjoy some fun in the snow. “It is so cold the air compressor’s hoses were frozen solid,” he said. More snow and freezing temperatures were forecast through today, with highs in the mid-20s.

ATV snow fun

'Snow-vid' persists in Northeast Arkansas

JONESBORO — With Northeast Arkansas smacked with severe winter weather, officials say residents should still consider the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver recognized the double whammy during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“As COVID persists, even during ‘snow-vid,’ we can’t take our eye off the pandemic. Our medical leadership is working on a mass vaccination event that we hope we can announce soon,” Copenhaver said.

Prior to recent weather events, the city offered free COVID-19 testing at Joe Mack Campbell Park. The tests were administered by Natural State Labs and were going to be offered for “an undetermined number of weeks.”

“We know that COVID is still being spread in our area and must remain vigilant if we want to see a true end to this pandemic,” City Medical Director Dr. Shane Speights said earlier this month. “Testing is also the only way we can identify new COVID variants that might come into our state and we know that ultimately will occur.”

Heaps of snow and ice also caused the closure of local Arkansas Department of Health units, which also offer free testing.

Recognizing the decrease in newly reported coronavirus cases statewide, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that ADH’s directives regarding events were amended.

Events with 100 or fewer attendees will not require an approved plan by the department to be held, Hutchinson said. Previously, any event with 10 or more participants needed ADH approval.

Athletic tournaments are also permitted, but a plan must be submitted to the health department. The host school must enforce preventative rules, he said.

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Wednesday morning:

Clay: 32 active cases, 1,578 recoveries, 45 deaths.

Craighead: 256 active cases, 12,198 recoveries, 174 deaths.

Crittenden: 135 active cases, 5,384 recoveries, 92 deaths.

Cross: 31 active cases, 1,800 recoveries, 47 deaths.

Greene: 111 active cases, 5,568 recoveries, 74 deaths.

Jackson: 23 active cases, 3,068 recoveries, 33 deaths.

Lawrence: 40 active cases, 1,905 recoveries, 41 deaths.

Mississippi: 128 active cases, 5,260 recoveries, 112 deaths.

Poinsett: 61 active cases, 2,914 recoveries, 75 deaths.

Randolph: 27 active cases, 1,834 recoveries, 49 deaths.

Sharp: 21 active cases, 1,438 recoveries, 50 deaths.

Jonesboro's Ereauna Hardaway dribbles around Batesville's Riley Freeman during a game at Don Riggs Hurricane Gym. The Lady Hurricane will host Greene County Tech on Monday in the first round of the 5A-East tournament.

Smaller towns coping with winter's wrath

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY — As winter weather continued to pummel the region with both freezing rain, snow and frigid temperatures, towns throughout Craighead County have been coping to the best of their ability this week. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning alert to remain in effect until late today.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, temperatures reached 15 degrees, allowing more rural towns in Craighead County the chance to clear roads and address other issues.

Monette Mayor Bob Blankenship said clearing the streets on Tuesday gave residents a chance to get to the store for essentials before the next round of winter weather arrived Wednesday.

By Wednesday morning Craighead County Road Superintendent Eugene Neff said county roads were completely covered again.

“What we peeled off earlier in the week had already been covered back up,” Neff said Wednesday morning.

Nevertheless, the brief break in winter weather allowed Craighead County’s rural towns to clear roadways, allowing residents the chance to stock up on essentials.

“One of our local merchants brought a tractor and cleared the parking lot at the bank and at local businesses,” Blankenship said. “I have not seen an empty parking space at the local grocery store in several days.”

Blankenship said the biggest battle his residents face is getting bread. One of the local businesses where bread is baked was instructed not to operate its ovens in order to conserve energy, so residents have to wait until Friday for a shipment.

The town is facing other challenges as well.

Blankenship said previous experience trying to clear roads indicated the town just did not have the capability to clear roads in the middle of a winter storm.

“We will wait until the storm is over before we try to tackle it,” he said.

Monette crews have worked all week to prepare in other ways besides just clearing roads.

“We pre-salted parking lots (and sidewalks),” Blakenship said. “It helps a lot; it did last week.”

Other towns in Craighead County have worked just as hard to keep roads accessible.

Bono Mayor Danny Shaw said his crews worked both Monday and Tuesday to clear roads.

“Even though (Monday) was a holiday, our employees worked all day clearing roads,” Shaw said. “Part of the time they were grading the roads and the precipitation was coming down before they could get the roads clear.”

As the town faced this winter storm system, Shaw said crews will probably get out and grade to keep snow from building up.

“When it is clear we will go back and do a final grade,” he said.

Due to weather conditions, Shaw said the city council meeting scheduled for Tuesday was rescheduled for Feb. 24.

Kenneth Jones, mayor of Brookland, said Brookland streets were covered as of Tuesday morning.

“The snow was packed down really hard. We just tried to smooth it off and did the best we could,” he said.

Jones said road crews will continue to work on clearing streets. “We just prepared for the next round,” he said.

Bay mayor Darrell Kirby said as of Tuesday morning, Bay was doing good.

“We had the county help us to clear roads with the county road graders,” he said. “The state helped us quite a bit, too.”

Two roads that run through Bay, Arkansas 463 and AR-158 were both clear Tuesday afternoon, Kirby said, noting residents could get out however briefly.

City crews used backhoes to clear parking lots of local businesses.

“We worked as fast as we could to get the roads clear,” he said.

Kirby said he’s just not sure if crews can keep up with the next round.

“(Weather forecasters) are predicting 4 to 8 inches of snow by Thursday,” he said.

Besides keeping the roads clear, another concern is the city’s well.

“I saw where Piggott was under a boil order, and that was a big concern for us,” he said.

Kirby said Bay’s chlorination rooms, where the town’s water supply is purified, were equipped with extra space heaters to keep the chemicals from freezing.

“We don’t want our chlorine to freeze,” he said.

Egypt Mayor Jerry Cook said all roads were clear Tuesday thanks to Craighead County road crews. City council members did not allow inclement weather to prevent city operations from occurring.

Cook said Egypt opted to have its city council meeting Tuesday night.

“I told them be ready at 6, I was coming to pick them up.” he said, noting he has a four-wheel-drive vehicle equipped to handle road conditions.

Michael Cureton, mayor of Cash, said Cash roads were clear enough to allow residents safe passage to Jonesboro for supplies on Tuesday.

“We have AR-226 that runs to Jonesboro,” Cureton said. “They could get to Jonesboro, but the streets were bad there.”

Cureton said Cash’s only local store, Jordan’s, has remained open allowing residents access to some essentials.

Lake City Councilman Danny Dunigan said Lake City also prepared its streets ahead of the final round of weather.

“The streets were fairly clear on Tuesday afternoon,” he said, noting the city has faced other challenges besides road conditions. “A couple of nights ago, we had a water main break, and they having been out trying to fix that in freezing temperatures. Those guys are tough.”

Kirby echoed the statement expressed by many officials in the area over the last few days.

“We are just trying to keep up and make sure everything is functional,” he said.

Neff said his best advice for residents in Craighead County is to stay off the roads.

“If we have to stop and pull someone out, that just hinders our progress,” he said.

Cottage housing, hybrid voting ordinances move forward

JONESBORO — A mix of concerns from officials and residents dominated the Jonesboro City Council’s discussion Tuesday about a proposed housing ordinance.

The three-page ordinance would allow builders to develop cottage-style housing in clusters of four surrounding green space. The cap is 12 homes per development, according to previous Sun reporting.

Unlike a subdivision, Planning Director Derrel Smith said the cottages don’t require the “dividing of lots and platting of streets.”

Councilmen Joe Hafner, LJ Bryant and Bobby Long also expressed uncertainty regarding how detailed the ordinance is or how well it would be enforced.

“I know we’ve gotten a couple of emails about whether or not our ordinance and the attachments to our ordinance contain enough specifics to keep this sort of development like how we want it and not let the people take advantage of it,” Hafner said.

Smith said current ordinances regarding sidewalks, landscaping and green space would be enforced in any instance. He did suggest that the proposed ordinance could be amended to specify that those apply to cottage developments.

“Even though this will not go through the subdivision process, it’ll still go through the site review process and all those other ordinances come into play during that time,” he said.

Mayor Harold Copenhaver reassured the council that the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission reviewed the ordinance with “their due diligence.”

“Thank you for their dedication and moving it on to (the) council,” Copenhaver said.

Prior to the meeting, several residents sent in comments, but The Sun couldn’t access them on Wednesday. During the meeting, Billy Brown submitted an email requesting that the final reading be postponed.

“The early start time due to weather conditions and the restrictions due to COVID-19 preclude participating by concerned citizens,” Brown wrote.

Patti Lack called into the city’s line for public comments and demanded that councilmen and Smith take another look at the ordinance before it’s passed. In comparison to Fayetteville’s cottage ordinance passed in 2011, she said it’s not detailed enough.

“What I think is going to happen since this going to be available in all types of zonings … there are some builders that are going to do a really good job with this,” Lack said. “But if we don’t have those standards and if we don’t have them written down, … we’re always going to keep on amending.”

The ordinance was passed to its final reading.

With no discussion among council members and public comments during the meeting, the hybrid voting ordinance will move to a second reading. If approved, half of the members citywide and the other half would be “elected solely by the citizens of the ward they represent.”