McAlester city councilors held a special meeting Wednesday night to pass a proclamation declaring a state of emergency in the city of McAlester — which also gave the mayor an opportunity to ask citizens to conserve water while city crews searched for a water line break.

The meeting to pass the emergency declaration had been scheduled prior to the water line break earlier Wednesday.

After the council passed the emergency declaration, Browne said the city had a major water line break somewhere in the system, causing water levels in the city water towers to go down. He said the site of the break had not been located at the time of the meeting.

"We're asking everybody to please conserve water," Browne said. The mayor was hopeful the break would not result in the loss of water service, but said some might experience a reduction in water pressure for a time.

"We have crews out in extremely cold weather" trying to find the site of the break," he said Wednesday evening.

After the meeting, Browne said the city was encouraging anyone who saw large accumulations of water in the city to phone 918-423-1212  to report it.

"We don't know where it is," the mayor said of the water line break around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday. "Everybody's doing everything they can."

Browne said prior to the Wednesday night meeting the emergency declaration is to open the way for any state or federal funding that might be forthcoming as a result of the extreme winter weather conditions in February.

"It's really a formality," Browne said.

"The governor declared the whole state an emergency," Browne noted of Gov. Kevin Stitt's statewide emergency declaration. "If any federal funds become available, we've already got the first steps done."

Earlier Wednesday, several hours prior to the city council meeting, Gov. Stitt announced that the state of Oklahoma requested a disaster declaration from the federal government, which would open the way for federal funds to serve as reimbursements to cities, counties and tribes related to costs for emergency protective measures associated with mass care and sheltering.

Stitt could request at a later date federal reimbursement for other expenditures related to the extreme winter storms that began Feb. 8.

Meanwhile, Browne said he didn't think the city would do anything more than it's already doing because of the city's emergency declaration.

"I don't think there will be anything additional to do," he said.

Mayor Browne, Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith and Ward 5 Councilor Billy Jack Boatright attend the meeting in-person on the second floor conference room at City Hall. Attending virtually by phone Culley Stevens, Ward 2; Steve Cox, Ward 3 and Zach Prichard, Ward 6.

Also during the meeting, city councilors approved claims for Jan. 20 through Feb. 2, which had been on the agenda for the Feb. 9 city council meeting, which was canceled due to the weather.

"It wouldn't be on there if we hadn't had to cancel the last meeting," Browne said.

The emergency proclamation states that beginning on Sunday, February 14, 2021, severe weather occurred in McAlester, Oklahoma, causing considerable damage to public and private properties.

Severe weather conditions are persistent and expected to continue for several days, the proclamation states.

Immediate attention is required to protect public health, reduce further damage, ensure public safety and render emergency relief, the proclamation continues.

"We, the Mayor and City Council of McAlester, Oklahoma, do find that the aforementioned conditions constitute a threat to the safety and welfare of the city, and create an emergency disaster situation within the meaning of Section 683.3, Oklahoma Emergency Management Act of 2003, as amended," states the proclamation.

"We, the Mayor and City Council, acting under the power vested in us under the Charter and Ordinances of the City of McAlester, do hereby declare McAlester, Oklahoma, to be a disaster area, entitled to aid, relief and assistance and do hereby direct the implementation of the City/County Emergency Operations Plan," the proclamation continues.

"We, John Browne, Mayor, and the City Council of McAlester, Oklahoma, do hereby proclaim and declare McAlester, Oklahoma, to be a disaster area, entitled to aid, relief and assistance and do hereby direct the implementation of the City/County Emergency Operations Plan," the proclamation concludes.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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