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CWL to adjust system for more demand

JONESBORO — Considering all the challenges, City Water and Light fared well during the past week’s snow storms and extremely cold temperatures.

But customers will have a higher price to pay in the coming months, due not only to higher consumption, but higher fuel costs, spokesman Kevan Inboden said.

“Overall, our system as a whole performed well considering the circumstances,” Inboden said.

While some utilities across the state and nation had to resort to brief outages in some areas, CWL had only one brief forced outage in the eastern industrial sector that also affected some residential customers Tuesday night.

One factor in avoiding more forced outages was the use of CWL’s five gas-fired turbine generators, which offset the statewide demand. However, generation was limited because of a shortage of natural gas nationally, he said.

Peak demand on Tuesday set a record at 11 a.m. that day at 296 megawatts, 21 MW higher than the previous record. At the time, the temperature was 8 degrees with a wind chill factor of -11, Inboden said. The all time record peak was 303 MW, on Aug. 3, 2011.

“We had some pockets of outages we dealt with and obviously we feel bad for those customers and we’ve already talked about ways we can improve out there,” Inboden said.

Sage Meadows was hardest hit with a massive outage on Monday.

“The issue with them is it’s such a large subdivision with large homes that’s on the extreme edge of the city,” Inboden said. A few years ago, CWL built a second distribution line into the eastern side of that community to provide a backup source of additional power. Now, Inboden said, as the subdivision continues to grow, one or two more distribution lines will need to be fed into that area. The additional lines will allow CWL to divide the load among multiple sources during peak demand, he said.

Under normal conditions, electric heat pumps are economical.

“When you have those extreme conditions, you just see multiples of electricity usage in those heat pumps and it really loads up our infrastructure out there,” he said.

The water system has experienced some broken pipes, due to freezing, but even there, it was less of a problem than many cities experienced.

Electricity customers in Texas are already reporting huge bills as a result of the frigid conditions there. The bills in Jonesboro will be higher, but Inboden said it’s too early to say how much higher.

“We have not seen enough data from our customers’ meter readings; we’ll probably start to see some of that next week,” Inboden said. “We’ll work with customers. Hopefully our customers won’t have significant issues with paying the bills as a whole, but we always have and we’ll continue to work with customers who need help with how that repayment is done.”

Inboden said he and many other customers take advantage of budget billing, also known as levelized billing, in which customers pay a set amount each month based on the previous year’s usage history.

Another factor in billing is the wholesale cost of the fuel used to generate electricity.

“Wholesale energy prices were high. Natural gas prices were high. Wholesale electricity prices were high,” Inboden said. “So the dust has not settled on all that, we’ll get bills over the month for those activities over those three days or so.

Inboden said those higher fuel costs will be passed on to customers as an energy adjustment cost that will be spread out over 12 months.

Ace, a therapy horse belonging to Deigo Ranch, lies patiently in the snow, waiting on owner Michael Jackson to deliver drinking water. Due to all ponds and horse troughs being frozen, Jackson said he had to deliver water to all the therapy horses.


Hope Found brings greater awareness to human trafficking

JONESBORO — An advertisement lit a spark in Megan Brown to advocate for human trafficking victims.

“In 2008, I was living in Nashville and I saw an ad for a documentary on human trafficking,” she said.” I worked with an organization in Nashville and when I moved back to Jonesboro, I became involved in a Little Rock-based organization.”

After hearing about local human trafficking cases, Brown reached out to community organizations two years ago and began to educate them on trafficking. In 2019, she co-founded Hope Found, a Jonesboro-based nonprofit that advocates for victims.

“In 2018, the owner of Kirin was arrested for trafficking and several young girls also went missing that year, suspected victims of trafficking,” she said. “I knew there needed to be more education in that area.”

Brown said human trafficking consists of two elements – sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The very definition of human trafficking, she said, is the recruitment, advertising, harboring, transporting or soliciting a person through the means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploiting them for sex trafficking or labor trafficking.

“Trafficking is very complex, it does not discriminate,” she said.

Brown said the most vulnerable populations in communities are those who have job insecurity, food insecurity, those who were part of the child welfare system and children in general.

Traffickers convince people they can give them a better life, Brown said.

That leads to “boy friending” in which victims soon fall in love with the trafficker, who in turn, exploits them to perform sex acts or labor acts.

According to a statistical report from Jonesboro Police Department, there appears to be a rise in cases. Although there are no reports for 2020, three years prior to that show a steady increase in cases.

JPD Public Information Specialist Sally Smith said 24 cases have been investigated by the department during the last three years.

“Two in 2018, nine in 2019 and 13 in 2020,” she wrote in an email to The Sun.

“There could be a possibility of more but there is not a reporting box they click on when this type of crime is reported,” Smith wrote. “We can only do a narrative search of reports where it is mentioned in the investigative notes.”

Brown said there are several areas that need improvement so cases can be tracked accurately.

“Arkansas lacks a consistent data tracking system for cases of trafficking,” she said.

Brown said last year her organization served 17 clients in Northeast Arkansas. As the cases climb and Brown and her team work to bring awareness to human trafficking, she has hopes for the future of her newly founded non-profit.

“Our goal is to open a safe house in Northeast Arkansas for survivors of trafficking and those directly affected by the commercial sex industry,” she said. “There are a lot of things we are looking at.”

As Brown continues bringing education and awareness to the issue, she is also forming community partnerships to help. One of the organizations that has participated in her training is Court Appointed Special Advocates of the 2nd Judicial District.

Angie Tate, who works for CASA, said volunteers are more educated about what defines human trafficking.

“One of the huge benefits of our partnership is that Megan has done training with our volunteers,” she said. “She helped them to understand trafficking is more than just someone being dragged off the street.”

Tate said volunteers realized there is not just sex trafficking but labor trafficking.

“It’s happening in our very own backyard,” she said.

Brown’s commitment to educate community organizations that work directly with the most vulnerable populations is beginning to bring about a change of mindset, Tate said.

“Communities used to think women who were in prostitution were there by choice,” she said. “These women are under someone’s control, oftentimes being gaslighted and being made to feel they have no other options.”

Many times when victims are identified, they have nothing but the clothes on their back when they do escape, Brown said.

“We just launched Bags of Hope in January. We have backpacks filled with supplies like clothing, hygiene items, notebooks and a Bible,” she said.

Brown said the bags were given to the JPD to help those victims.

Iciclies melt Friday morning from the roof of a house at Walnut and Warner streets in Jonesboro. With sunshine and temperatures expected to climb into the 40s, the ice and snow from last week’s snowstorms should be history by today.


City panel to consider building renovations, construction

JONESBORO — Renovations to the former YMCA building and development of a homeless shelter are among the priorities the city has established under a federal grant.

Jonesboro has $668,860 in unallocated funding from a special Community Development Block Grant that was part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.

The city initially planned to provide Small Business Emergency Grants, but only received six applications that met federal guidelines for a total of $60,000. After conducting public hearings, the city’s grants department decided to divide the unallocated money into three projects. Under a plan the city council’s finance and administration committee will consider Tuesday, the city would:

Use $218,860 to renovate the YMCA building, which is also home to the municipal swimming pool. The facility would be used to provide a safe environment for emergency quarantine, during a disaster and/or pandemic for short-term assistance, such as emergency Red Cross services.

Use $100,000 for continuation of a COVID-29 grant program for public service nonprofit organizations.

Put $350,000 toward funding a homeless shelter, once a location has been confirmed.

In other business, the committee will consider details of a Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grant. The grant will provide $305,960 to allow the city to buy and remove houses that have sustained flood damage multiple times. The city’s share of the cost of the project will be $95,612.

The houses are at 3804 Gamblin Drive, just south of Interstate 555 off of Willow Road; 3901 Willow Road; 2505 Mary Jane Drive, in the Fairview Addition; and 525 W. Forrest St. in northern Jonesboro.

The committee will meet at 4 p.n.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic the meeting will be conducted online with only essential officials admitted into the meeting room. The meeting will be broadcast on FacebookLive and Suddenlink Channel 24. Another online option is Jonesboro.Legistar.com to watch live or recorded video and view agendas.

Residents and interested parties can participate either by sending email to Council Comments@jonesboro.org or calling 870-336-7248 when agenda items are being discussed.

Woman arrested for spitting on officer

JONESBORO — A Mississippi County woman was jailed after police say she spat in an officer’s face.

The Jonesboro Police Department responded Thursday night to a domestic disturbance in the 1500 block of Kathleen Street, records show. The male victim, 26, told officers that Sommer Golliday, 26, of Luxora, had been drinking when an argument between them started, the probable cause affidavit read.

He claimed that Golliday punched him in the face and “attempted to hit the victim with a small dumbbell,” the sworn document states. JPD noted that officers didn’t observe any “apparent” injuries and he was not transported to a local hospital.

After the suspect was detained, the department alleged that she spat several times “directly in the face of one of the officers on scene,” records indicate. The male officer was not identified in the incident report or affidavit released by JPD.

Craighead County District Court Judge David Boling found probable cause Friday to charge Golliday with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and aggravated assault on a family or household member.

As part of her pretrial release, Boling set at $50,000 cash or surety bond and enacted a no-contact order between the suspect and her former male acquaintance.

She also pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor failure to appear as well as several assault and harassment charges. Boling set a $3,500 cash or surety bond to secure her appearance in district court.

Golliday is the second Northeast Arkansas detained in less than one week for misconduct during an arrest.

Darius Eskridge, 21, of Jonesboro, is being held on a $75,000 bond for allegedly injuring an Arkansas State University Police officer, resulting in his hospitalization.

A JPD officer was spat on, another was kicked in the left knee and another in the chest. JPD Chief Rick Elliott was also kicked in the face as they tried to detain Eskridge in a transport vehicle.

He was charged with second-degree battery injuring a police officer, aggravated assault on a correctional facility employee, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

As of Friday afternoon, Golliday and Eskridge were being held in the Craighead County Detention Center.