Copperas Cove deals with one-week deep freeze, officials have infrastructure concerns
By LYNETTE SOWELL
More than one week into below-freezing temperatures, and more than 60 hours into what began as “rolling outages,” Copperas Cove is dealing with other issues brought on by the severely cold weather.
On Thursday morning, 3,400 of the city’s 15,791 electricity customers remained without power, as per Oncor’s online outage tracker. That number is roughly 21.5 percent, or a little more than 1 in 5. The number is down from 10,040 customers without power on Tuesday morning, 62.8 percent, nearly two-thirds of the city.
Mayor Bradi Diaz announced on that the city had a conference call with Oncor rep on Thursday morning and were told that the remaining outages are no longer a part of the rolling blackouts.
“If you are still without power then it is due to damage. They are in restoration mode and are repairing those who have been without power the longest.”
While the city tried to continue essential services, other services such as garbage collection are on hold.
Copperas Cove Deputy Fire Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Young said that the department has been running very, very hard, pretty much 24 hours a day since Sunday. Between midnight Monday through 9 p.m. Tuesday, Young said the department responded to more than 70 calls in the 45-hour time period.
“It’s a multitude of things. We’ve had heart attacks, we’ve had strokes. We’ve had people who had fallen down on the ice, and they’ve had scrapes, bruises, broken bones. The number of car crashes we had, initially weren’t as many as people would have thought, but there were nine car wrecks on Monday morning, when it started to get really nasty.”
Young said that they have even given some oxygen-dependent residents rides to the hospital to pick up more oxygen after their backup oxygen was gone.
“We’ve sent a small brush truck, a 4 by 4, loaded them up and brought them to the hospital because it’s four-wheel-drive,” Young said.
Young pointed to infrastructure concerns brought on by the weather.
“The southeast water treatment plant has been without power for several days. The potties still flush, so the waste products are coming down. We submitted a request to the state for a 100-kilowatt generator to assist us in getting that back on online. but until we get power, we don’ t know if the system’s damaged or if it will work,” said Young.
Another concern has been fuel sources, Young said.
“On Tuesday, when people started hitting the roads, they started filing up with fuel. We started looking at that really quick, that if everybody buys the fuel, we may have a hard time getting to where we need to be.” The city purchases its fuel from gas stations, just like residents.
Young said the city has identified other fuel sources, with Coryell County providing the city with access to a fuel sources, and CCISD has as well.
Infrastructure issues calling for emergency water conservation, boil water for some areas
Also, Young said that the city has been using its water supply reserves as well, as some of the water tanks are not filling up.
“We have a reduced amount of water coming in from our supplier, and some of our facilities are frozen and the capacity to provide water is less than what we would like for it to be. We’re telling citizens, whether it be frozen pipes, electric devices that aren’t working, we’re consuming our water reserves quicker than we can replenish them. So, please conserve water. Take care of your minimum needs, but outside of that, don’t use the water.”
Young said that every 12 hours, the city’s emergency management team has been meeting for updates, to include department heads, the mayor, his office, as well as the county judge.
“Since this started, one of the things that we as city employees have been doing is working hard around the clock. Because we are doing that, it is obviously not something that people are seeing, I can tell you we are logging the hours to address these issues as best as we possibly can.”
He said city staff have left their homes to help keep things going, and that staff are working away from their regular duties, such as Parks & Recreation staff keeping the warming center going.
Yet another issue created due to the extreme cold temperatures is the strain on the city’s water supply. On Wednesday evening, the city implemented its Stage 2 Water Restrictions, due to the extreme weather conditions and prolonged power outages, as well as reduced water supply being delivered from the city’s water provider.
A boil water notice was issued, affecting all of Skyline Dr. to include the following connecting streets: Sun Point Cr., White Mesa Cir., Wild Horse Cir., Sun Temple Cir., Sun Down Ln, Grace Louis Cir., Lois Cir., Homer Cir., 2000 & 3000 Blocks of Veterans, Babb St., Mountain Ave., Josie Cir., 2200 & 2300 Blocks of Terrace Dr., Post Oak Ave., Crescent Dr., Live Oak Dr., Meadow Ln., Liberty St., Craig St., Rhonda Lee St.., Stewart St., 3000 Block of Pecan Cove Dr., Sabrina Ln., K Star Dr., Potter Dr., 2800 & 2900 Block of Ogletree Pass, Buckboard Trail., Post Office Rd, Alan Arbor Ln, Rawhide Rd, Pony Express Ln, 1600 to 2300 Blocks of Freedom Ln.
Mayor Bradi Diaz said there more issues are anticipated even after complete power is restored to the city.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of infrastructure once everyone gets their power back on, and seeing what the damages are. They have no idea at this point,” Diaz said. “We’re trying to get through it and we will have to see what needs are, and continue to seek those resources. We are in constant contact with Judge miller and the state, Texas Department of Emergency Management.”
But Diaz has seen some “fend for yourselves” from the state.
“We needed a generator immediately, and they kicked it back down, saying see if you can get it locally., and we said, no, we can’t, that’s why we’re asking you. So they did get us one. They’re trying to say, rely on yourself. ‘This is a statewide emergency and we have our own things to deal with.’ They’re going to tell you to work on things locally before they’re going to send you any help.”
Local stores having supply issues this week
Meanwhile, the only two grocery stores in the city have had to deal with supply issues, due to the fact that delivery trucks just aren’t able to make the journey.
H-E-B Plus! in Copperas Cove began to limit their operating hours, and then on Wednesday were only open long enough for those who had lined up outside, to shop. There’s not an estimate as to when trucks will start being able to resume regular deliveries.
“Our Warehouse and Transportation team has been working to get product to our stores. We are at the mercy of the weather and road conditions so it’s hard to say when stores will begin to receive shipments of product. Our goal is as soon as possible,” said Chelsea Thompson, with H-E-B Public Affairs North Texas.
City, state officials take issue with ERCOT
While Copperas Cove and other Texas communities dealt with the blow of power outages, with some residents out of power for 60 hours and counting, city and state officials took issue with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s (ERCOT) handling of the situation.
On Wednesday, Mayor Diaz said she wasn’t speaking as a politician.
“I think it’s all baloney. So ERCOT is pointing fingers at Oncor or the providers, and Oncor is pointing fingers at ERCOT. It was just a basic malfunction of the entire system, and everyone got caught with their pants down and did not know what to do. So now they’re all pointing their fingers at everybody. I think their intention was to bring (customers) offline and then back online, but then some of them when they were offline, couldn’t be brought back online because there was no energy to provide them.
“So some that got kicked off, they couldn’t get back on because there’s no room for them, so they got left off. Some were in the loop, off and on. Some when they got kicked off, something broke, and then it had to get fixed. So once it was fixed, there was not room on the grid to get them back on.
“It was a perfect storm. There was not one thing that made it go bad. It’s many things that contributed to the mess that we find ourselves in.
“We as Texans have all been failed by the entire system. Let’s figure it out and do better.”
On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott took ERCOT to task, by declaring the reform of ERCOT an emergency item this legislative session. In declaring this item an emergency, the governor is calling for the legislature to investigate ERCOT and ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” said Governor Abbott. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable. Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions. I thank my partners in the House and Senate for acting quickly on this challenge, and I will work with them to enhance Texas’ electric grid and ensure that our state never experiences power outages like this again.”
Texas Representative for House District 59, Shelby Slawson, also issued a letter that she has submitted to Public Utility Commission of Texas Chair DeAnn Walker, discussing the fact that ERCOT’s board of directors included people who live outside Texas.
“Out-of-state appointments result in decision-makers not sharing in the real-time, ground-level, blacked-out struggles and consequences of their decisions. This is unacceptable,” Slawson wrote. “Central Texans are unequivocally clear: those who have the say in cutting off power to their homes in freezing weather should be living in one of those homes.”
“Because the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has a say in ERCOT appointments and may be looking to fill vacancies even as this letter is transmitted, I urge in the strongest possible terms, that Board positions be filled with Texas residents to ensure we are all, in fact and not merely philosophy, ‘in this together.’
“Additionally, we have noticed today that ERCOT has removed from its website the identity of its Board members. Anecdotally, I am told that may be due to the members expressing concerns for their safety. Frankly, all Texans are experiencing concerns for our safety. Texans need and deserve more transparency from their government, not less.”
Slawson also spoke to the electricity cost increases which were proposed due to the increased demands because of the extreme cold.
“Finally, our people beseech, implore, and demand that the PUC and ERCOT employ every possible resource and avoid imposing exorbitant price increases on consumers as a result of this power crisis and industry failure. Our hard-working Texans, already beleaguered by a year of pandemic-related financial hardships, just don’t have it to give.
“These are our people, our friends, our families, our loved ones. They are suffering. Please let me know how I can be of assistance in relieving their suffering and ensuring this never, ever happens again.”