City studies power back-up plan

By Bonnie Culverhouse

Since it’s difficult to predict a power outage in Minden, Mayor Nick Cox is proposing a power back-up plan to make the darkness a little lighter.

During a recent workshop, the mayor told councilpersons his ideas on keeping citizens comfortable during an outage.

“With the heat, it’s a very critical situation,” Cox said, referring to the recent forced outage due to a fire at Gilark Substation. “We need to come up with a local building with generator power in the city.”

Recently, Cox said Fire Chief and Homeland Security Director Brian Williams told him bathrooms would be necessary in the chosen location if it is to be a shelter.

Some of the locations batted around were Ewell Park, Minden Community House, old National Guard Armory and the Forestry Building at Minden Fairgrounds.

“The problem is, they don’t have showers,” Williams said. “If you go more than 24 hours, then it becomes a ‘shelter site.’ If it’s just a cooling center, you don’t have to have showers.”

Cox pointed out that Minden’s Rec Center is equipped to serve as a shelter.

“We don’t have to use it for refugees from all over,” he added. “We can just use it as a shelter for local people.

“In my opinion,” Cox said. “People of Minden need a place to stay. If we can equip it with full bathrooms, showers and generators, I like the idea.”

If it is a parish-wide emergency, the shelter would be open to all Webster Parish residents in the south end of the parish.

“On a parish level, if we declare a state of emergency for a disaster, whether it be a power outage or a tornado, we are looking for a shelter site to house Minden residents or south Webster Parish residents,” Williams said. “Prior to Katrina, as soon as the Rec Center was built, that was the shelter site. Now there’s a mega shelter in Shreveport and Alexandria that house all that. Webster Parish is not a shelter site for outside of the parish.”

Williams went on to say that Homeland Security is in the process of getting around $500,000 in grant money specifically for city generators.

“Some are for water plants, some are for lift stations, one is for the fire department,” he said. “If the city decides they want the Rec Center to be the shelter, we can acquire whatever size generator is applicable if that’s what this council chooses.”

Staff would be put into place for around the clock surveillance at a shelter.

District C Councilwoman Latasha Mitchell Said she feels it will take a lot of work to police activity of the persons staying there.

“Of course, when I was there, there were a lot of people from New Orleans and other places because of Katrina, Gustav and Rita,” she said. “Not including those areas would alleviate all that.”

Police Chief Jared McIver said in working past disasters, “If you split the shelter among buildings, you are going to have to put law enforcement at every one of them. If you have it at the Rec Center, you have one central location.”

He also pointed out that it will take cooperation from the Sheriff’s department and state police.

“We will all be working security around the clock, and if you start spreading it, that’s just more and more places to keep up with,” said the chief.

The Rec Center hasn’t always had security cameras, but Recreation Department Director Zita Williams ays “we have them now.”

District E Councilman Andy Pendergrass asked if the Webster Parish Police Jury will be partnering with the city.

“They are giving us money on this,” Cox said.

Location is possibly the biggest issue with using the Rec Center as a shelter.

District D Councilman Michael Roy asked about busing affected citizens to the Rec Center, which is just off the I-20 service road.

Williams said if it’s identified as a state emergency, Homeland Security is authorized to call in buses from Webster Parish schools and Louisiana Transit to take residents to the Rec Center.

“And I can get National Guard drivers, if I need them,” he added.

Williams also stressed the difference between a shelter and a cooling/warming center.

“Two totally separate things,” he said. “Since the Rec Center has showers, it could be the shelter. But the other buildings we talked about – put a transfer switch on them, and in the next issuance of grant money, let’s put a portable generator on a trailer that the city owns. It can be moved to different locations.

No action can be taken at city council workshops, however, a workshop strictly on this issue may be in the future.