County commissioners work to meet frigid temperature challenges

DERRICK JAMES | Staff photoSnow covered McAlester this week and county commissioners work to clear roads amid some challenges.

Pittsburg County commissioners faced a number of challenges during the extremely cold weather this week — including trying to keep road graders and other heavy equipment operable.

Commissioners said they concentrated trying to keep hills and intersections to major connector roads drivable during the extreme weather.

District 2 Commissioner Kevin Smith said the extreme cold temperatures on Tuesday caused equipment problems, even to the point of freezing fuel pumps at the District 2 County Barn.

He said the pumps were thawed by blowing hot air from space heaters on them.

Heavy equipment, such as road graders, had problems due to the diesel fuel gelling up, Smith said.

"We're having problems with the equipment," he said at the time.

County commissioners had to place anti-gel additives into the fuel tanks to get some of the road graders and other equipment operable. Smith said road graders and salt spreaders were out trying to clear hills and other troublesome spots.

"We're getting after it," he said. Commissioners don't have all the salt they want, so they are having to use it mainly on hills, some intersections, and other potentially problematic spots.

Smith noted the Pittsburg County Courthouse was closed Tuesday and Wednesday, after being closed for President's Day on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday closings were due to hazardous driving conditions and also to help conserve electricity following a request to conserve electricity from PSO, issued through the Southwest Power Pool, responsible for providing electricity to 17 central and western states.

District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers said the extreme temperatures also affected equipment in his district.

"We finally got everything thawed out and the right stuff in our fuel tanks," Rogers said Wednesday of the anti-gel additives which help get the equipment running.

"We've got all five graders out scraping the roads," Rogers said Wednesday. Salt trucks are out as well, he said.

"Where it's flat, we're not salting," Rogers said. "We're concentrating on the hills and bridges."

Rogers said District 1 workers have been assisting people where they can, such as helping an individual get out of a driveway who had to get to the airport; giving another person a ride to get some milk; helping pull out some vehicles than had ran off roadways but were still partially blocking the roads.

A lot of farmers and ranchers have been affected by the cold, Rogers said. It's difficult for newborn calves  to survive in such frigid temperatures.

He said he's seen some of his own calves walking on a frozen pond. It was frozen hard enough to hold their weight, he said.

Rogers said this is the first time he's seen parts of Lake Eufaula frozen over since he was a kid, mentioning Elm Point and the Coal Creek areas as parts of the lake that were frozen.

He also also noted that the courthouse has been closed so far this week.

"We're past the bad stuff," Rogers said Wednesday. "Now, we've got to get everything thawed out."

Commission Chairman/District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman also had issues with keeping fuel flowing through some equipment.

"It was gelling up and giving us problems," Selman said Wednesday. Some of the issues were with the newer equipment.

"The new machines have so many wires and sensors, they were not wanting to run," he said. One piece of heavy machinery proved particularly troublesome.

"We had heck trying to get it going," Selman said. "We got the anti-gel mixed and going through the system."

He said the others were out and working, with District 3 workers concentrating first on problem areas.

"The boys are getting the hills first," he said. With limited salt supplies, they're not treating as much on the straight roadways, he said.

Selman also noted Wednesday the Pittsburg County has been closed up to that point, due to the hazardous driving conditions and partially because of the PSO request to conserve as much electricity as possible.

"That was in place. We've got to do our part," Selman said.

He said he went inside the courthouse Monday evening to turn out lights in restrooms, offices and hallways. 

"I went in and turned out the lights everywhere but in the lobby," Selman said, saying he left the lobby light on so police could see inside the building.

Selman recorded an extremely low temperature at his home on Tuesday morning. 

"It was 15 below," he said. "By the time I got to town, it was 6 below.

"We ain't had one like this for years," said Selman.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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