OSWEGO — Labette County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to keep three county buildings closed on Wednesday to continue to conserve electricity because of extreme cold in the Midwest.
The courthouse in Oswego and the Labette County Health Department and Labette County Judicial Center in Parsons will be closed Wednesday to conserve electricity. These buildings were closed Tuesday as well. Commissioners also agreed that while the buildings are closed, the employees who work in them will continue to be paid.
The buildings will reopen on Thursday as long as the temperatures continue to rise as the week progresses.
Commissioner Lonie Addis said in the last 38 years the courthouse in Oswego has only been closed for three hours by action of the commission.
Commissioners met Tuesday to receive updates on the weather, the electric and gas situations and the possibility of the county helping the city of Altamont find and prepare a shelter for up to 100 of its citizens in case natural gas is cut off to the city this week.
Labette County Emergency Management Director Charlie Morse said there is a 50% chance of snow overnight with accumulations of up to 3 inches possible. The weather will warm up later in the week. The low temperatures have caused problems for fire departments fighting fires in and around Parsons this week, mostly because of broken valves on trucks.
He said Altamont is dealing with a natural gas shortage as of Tuesday because the supplier reduced available gas by 26%. Some businesses have shut down in Altamont and others have reduced hours. If low temperatures continue to create problems in the supply chain, Altamont, which buys its gas from Kansas Municipal Gas Association, may face a gas shutoff. Another issue the town is dealing with is the potential for a huge increase in cost for the gas.
Morse said if gas is shut off, the city of Altamont may have to look at evacuating citizens whose homes are heated by natural gas instead of electricity. Evacuations, if needed — and Morse said there is a 50% chance of them happening — would require a shelter for up to 100 citizens for seven to 10 days. The shelter would need a backup generator of at least 300 watts to keep the heat on in case rolling blackouts are still possible in the coming days. The possibility exists for rolling blackouts, though that risk diminishes as the temperature rises.
In the event of evacuations, the Labette County Sheriff’s Office would help with patrols in Altamont as needed.
Morse said if gas gets shut off to Altamont, pipes could freeze in the homes heated by gas. The city would have to turn the gas off at the meter to these homes. When the people returned home, the city would have to turn on the gas, light appliances and check for leaks in each home shut off. If water pipes burst in these homes, those would have to be repaired.
Commissioners discussed a number of options for shelters, but Morse said a city-owned building in Independence that meets the criteria is available if needed. In the event an evacuee has COVID-19, he or she would have to be housed in Emporia or perhaps in a motel in Pittsburg, Morse said. On the suggestion of Commissioner Brian Kinzie, Morse said he would check to see if the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Parsons would be available as a shelter.
Public Works Director Sandy Krider told commissioners the low temperatures have played havoc on diesel fuel in vehicles. The fuel gels even with a special additive, so county crews are mixing diesel and kerosene 50-50 to get a mixture that will not gel in low temperatures.
The change requires adaptations in the vehicles to get them ready for the mixture. So far, she has seven of 11 motor graders changed over and four salt trucks. It’s none too soon as county crews will be out again early Wednesday morning to clear roads if the predicted snowstorm hits overnight.