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Controlled outages planned as utilities battle frigid cold
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Miami County residents, and others throughout the 14-state balancing authority region whose power supply is coordinated by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), may find themselves without power for a short time as planned outages are being used as a tool to avoid a larger crisis.

The SPP declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 at 10:08 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 15, when it was forced to begin relying on required reserve energy due to the high demand amid bitter cold temperatures. After the reserve energy was exhausted, the SPP directed its member utilities, including Evergy, to implement controlled interruptions of service to prevent further, more widespread and uncontrolled outages, according to a news release.

“In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” said SPP’s executive vice president and chief operating officer Lanny Nickell. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude.”

News of potential outages sent customers scrambling to Evergy’s website, which posted Monday afternoon that it is temporarily unavailable due to the high traffic.

Current outages can be tracked at outagemap.evergy.com.

“Beginning on February 15 at 12:15 p.m., Evergy will begin to turn off electricity to blocks of customers for approximately 30-60 minutes,” Evergy announced in a news release. “Once the period has concluded, power will be restored to the impacted area. The emergency outages will then rotate to another portion of Evergy’s service area. Power will cycle off and on periodically until the reduction is no longer required by the SPP. With these extreme cold temperatures, equipment may not operate as intended. As a result, outages could last longer than 30-60 minutes.”

Evergy issued a news release Sunday, Feb. 14, asking customers to conserve electricity as much as possible through Wednesday, Feb. 17, because the SPP is reporting that the region’s coldest weather in decades is creating high demand for electricity.

“At the same time, the extreme weather is driving high demand for natural gas used to heat homes and businesses, straining the gas supply available to generate electricity, and icy conditions have made availability of wind generation uncertain,” according to the release.

Temperatures are not likely to climb above freezing until Friday, Feb. 19, according to Accuweather.

City of Spring Hill

Rolling power outages will appear across Spring Hill, according to Evergy. Outages are expected to last 30-60 minutes at a time as requested by the SPP due to high demand. Right now, this will be on a rotation basis until no longer needed, according to the city of Spring Hill.

The cities of Osawatomie and Louisburg have issued statements asking their residents to reduce electric and natural gas usage.

City of Osawatomie

“The City of Osawatomie continues to produce electricity through our generation capacities but we have reached a critical point,” according to a city news release issued about 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15. “Our power pool is out of electricity and is having to purchase from others. Because of this, the City of Osawatomie was entered into Emergency Energy Alert Level 2 (EEA2) this morning. If we do not immediately reduce our energy consumption, we could trigger into EEA3, which would mean rolling blackouts or widespread outages for the next several days.”

City officials urged Osawatomie residents to look for ways to reduce their household’s electric and natural gas usage. The city urged residents to keep warm, but not hot.

“Do not run your appliances (dishwashers, laundry machines, garage fridges, etc.),” according to the city release. “If it’s safe to do so, please turn off space heaters, or turn down other heating elements. Unplug kitchen appliances that are not in use, turn off lights when the room is vacant, and keep doors closed in your home to reduce the strain on your furnace. Use blankets, towels, sheets, plastic or other material to cover drafty windows and doors if you cannot obtain weather stripping or caulk.”

The city said it is grateful to the O-Zone for agreeing to close Monday, Feb. 15, and Tuesday, Feb. 16, to help lighten the load, and would encourage other businesses who are able to close to do the same.

“If you own a business but are not able to close, please also be looking for ways to reduce your energy consumption while maintaining operations,” city officials said in the release. “We have not seen weather this severe for this many consecutive days since 1989.”

Osawatomie’s Municipal Auditorium is still a designated warming center for those that need it.but city officials said it will be difficult to maintain that operation should the city be forced into rolling blackouts.

“The Osawatomie Fire Department and Osawatomie Police Department are available 24/7 should you or anyone you know need assistance during this time,” according to the release.

City of Louisburg

The city of Louisburg said it is joining area utility companies including Evergy, the city’s electric provider, in asking residents to conserve energy during this unprecedented cold spell, according to a news release.

“Evergy is asking customers to conserve electricity use as much as possible through Wednesday, Feb. 17, citing the strain the cold weather is putting on the demand for electricity and natural gas to heat homes and businesses,” the city said.

The Kansas Municipal Energy Agency, the organization that the city of Louisburg contracts with to purchase natural gas, said in a statement to its users that the unprecedented, prolonged period of extreme cold has made extensive increases in natural gas demand across the Midwest and other parts of the country and the nation’s natural gas supply is being tested. Spot natural gas prices were reaching over 200 times the normal pricing the end of last week, according to the release.

“KMGA asks each member city to strongly encourage all residents to reduce gas usage in your communities, including reaching out to your large users such as schools and businesses, and limiting natural gas uses wherever possible for the next several days,” KMGA said in an email to its members, including the city of Louisburg.

The city of Louisburg provides natural gas to about 1,500 residential and commercial customers. City officials asked residents to help out and, despite the frigid weather, to conserve energy if possible.

City of Paola

The Paola Fire Department announced Sunday it is opening the Firehouse Gym Sunday and Monday, Feb. 15, on an interim basis to give folks a clean warm place to go.

“As many of you know we have recently had issues with vandalism in the bathrooms. Please treat the facility respectfully so we can continue to offer this benefit to the public,” Chief Andy Martin said in a Facebook post. “Also, please keep an eye out and if you see something say something.Please wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Statewide emergency

A statewide disaster emergency declaration was issued late Sunday. The governor’s office issued this statement:

“Because of the sub-zero temperatures which causes an increased energy demand and natural gas supply constraints, utilities are currently experiencing wholesale natural gas prices anywhere from 10 to 100 times higher than normal. Those costs will eventually flow through to consumers, and increase monthly natural gas and electric bills.”

Miami County offices

Miami County nonpublic safety functions closed Tuesday but were set to reopen Wednesday.

The Miami County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday, Feb. 14, it will be available to community members to warm up as needed as temperatures continued to hover in the single digits and a fresh layer of snow covered the ground.

“The number one priority of our agency is citizens’ safety. Safety doesn’t just mean being safe from crime, but at times it’s about being safe from the elements,” Capt. Matt Kelly said. “We want to make sure the citizens have a warm place to go in the event there is that need. We will work to make short/long-term accommodations for them even if it’s not in our building, ultimately keeping them safe.”

Kelly said the sheriff’s office knows in extreme cold situations residents might not have a warm place to eat, sleep or relax. Residents who need a place to warm up can contact an on-duty patrol officer or jail sergeant to make accommodations.

The city of Osawatomie has designated City Auditorium as a warming center. Contact the Osawatomie Police Department at (913) 755-2102 for arrangements, according to a sheriff’s office news release.

Tips for conserving energy

Evergy encouraged all customers to implement the following tips:

  • Turn thermostats a little cooler (65-68 degrees). Avoid the use of electric space heaters.
  • Close blinds and shades to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows.
  • Change or clean filters on furnaces.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights and appliances in your home.
  • When possible, use large appliances (clothes washers, dryers and dishwashers) between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
  • Reduce air leaks that let cold air in by sealing around doors and windows with weather stripping or caulk and inserting foam gaskets on electrical switches and outlets.
  • Businesses should reduce the use of electric lighting and electricity-consuming equipment as much as possible.
  • Large consumers of electricity should consider shutting down or reducing non-essential processes.

Evergy is a member of the Southwest Power Pool, which coordinates the regional transmission grid and wholesale energy markets for the central United States, including Kansas and Missouri. The SPP monitors power flow through its footprint and coordinates regional response in emergency situations, according to the release.

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Fontana woman celebrates 100th birthday in style

FONTANA — The smile on Lela Sharp’s face couldn’t have been bigger as she peered out the glass front door of her Fontana home Thursday, Feb. 11, and watched a long line of vehicles parade down Merrill Street.

Patrol units from the Miami County Sheriff’s Office were flashing lights, an ambulance from Miami County Emergency Medical Services was blaring its siren, and friends and family members in separate vehicles of their own were honking horns, waving and holding up signs.

They all had a good reason to celebrate. After all, it’s not every day the oldest living person in Fontana turns 100.

“That was really nice,” Lela said afterward as she talked with family and friends who stopped by to wish her a happy 100th birthday.

Neighbors Ryan and Sarah Hagemaster helped organize the event, and they were some of the first to arrive Thursday morning for the party. It was an extra special day for Ryan, who was also celebrating his 41st birthday.

“She’s got me by a few years,” Ryan admitted.

Sarah wanted to make Lela’s milestone birthday special, so she reached out to Karen Blanck, who put them in touch with representatives from the Cops for Tots program at the Miami County Sheriff’s Office. Capt. Matt Kelly then took a lead role in organizing the county emergency vehicles for the parade.

Family members told Lela about it the night before so she could be prepared, but they all were overwhelmed by the turnout despite the bitter cold weather.

“My tears are frozen,” grandchild Angel Rice said while standing on the snow-covered front yard and waving at parade participants.

Family members said word about the parade spread quickly on social media and soon it seemed the whole town of Fontana was on board. Most all of the neighbors were well aware of Lela, who has lived in her Fontana home for the past 80 years.

It started as a two-room house built by her late husband, Ralph, and he continued to expand the home as their family grew.

“They used to joke that every time they had a kid they built another room,” grandchild Patty Dowty said.

Lela and Ralph ended up with six children: Carolyn Jenkins, Richard Sharp, Roger Sharp, Peggy Servos, Mary Tennis and Betty Marion.

Lela said she is most proud that all of her children have been married for over 50 years. Lela and Ralph were just a few months from their 65th wedding anniversary when he passed away in 2003.

Lela was born in 1921, the same year Amelia Earhart took her first flying lesson, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in physics, and Warren G. Harding was inaugurated as the 29th president of the United States.

She said “working hard” is the best advice she could give to someone wondering how to live a long life. She added that it helps to grow a big garden.

Lela always had a big garden next to her Fontana home, and she used it to feed her growing family. Ryan said he has been Lela’s neighbor for about 13 years, and he remembers after they first moved in he was amazed to see Lela out plowing her garden using on old metal plow even though she was in her late 80s.

“I canned 92 quarts of green beans one year,” Lela proudly declared.

“Her green beans are the best,” Patty said.

“No, her chicken and noodles are the best,” another family member chimed in from the kitchen.

Family continues to be a focal point for Lela, and she said she enjoys the fact that many of her children and grandchildren still live nearby.

In fact, Patty visits Lela every Monday.

“She used to make me lunch, and now I cook for her,” Patty said.

All throughout Lela’s home Thursday were signs of how her family worked to make her birthday special. There was a happy birthday sign in the front yard, balloons showing the number 100 in the window and a T-shirt hanging up featuring the words: “Vintage 100, Aged to Perfection, Original Parts.”

There also was a special birthday card illustrating just how many things can happen in 100 years. The card says: “100 years of love and laughter; 36,525 days; 876,600 hours; 52,596,000 minutes; 6 amazing children; 16 beautiful grandchildren; 32 wonderful great grandchildren; many loving great-great grandchildren; 1 blessed family; All because of YOU!”

Patty said she loves her grandmother, and she will always remember the words of wisdom Lela passed on to her and her fellow family members.

“She would always say, ‘it’s a great life, if you don’t weaken,’” Patty said.

The saying comes from a song that was first recorded in 1930 for a musical film by Maurice Chevalier, and it has been covered by multiple artists since.

The lyrics state: “If you don’t lose heart, the hardest part is the first hundred years.”

Paola firefighters paid tribute to former Miami County Sheriff Dan Morgan on Thursday, Feb. 11, by hoisting an American flag and saluting the funeral procession as it passed by the old sheriff’s office on Pearl Street where Morgan lived during his tenure as sheriff. Morgan passed away Feb. 5 at the age of 89. Representatives from the sheriff’s office and Paola Police Department, among others, took part in the procession.

An honorable farewell

Paola firefighters (above and at left) paid tribute to former Miami County Sheriff Dan Morgan on Thursday, Feb. 11, by hoisting an American flag and saluting the funeral procession as it passed by the old sheriff’s office on Pearl Street where Morgan lived during his tenure as sheriff. Morgan passed away Feb. 5 at the age of 89. Representatives from the sheriff’s office and Paola Police Department, among others, took part in the procession.

Minna Meyer (left) and Max Bauer were the top winners of the Louisburg Middle School spelling bee. Minna, an eighth-grader, won the LMS bee, and Max, a sixth-grader, was runner-up. They will compete against students from across the county at the Miami County Spelling Bee, scheduled to take place Friday, Feb. 19, at Paola Middle School.

Top spellers eye county bee

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Louisburg educators receive COVID-19 vaccine

LOUISBURG — Cassi Vohs of Vohs Pharmacy in Louisburg moved among the various stations on the floor of the Louisburg High School gymnasium where a COVID-19 vaccination clinic was taking place.

Louisburg USD 416 staff members were arriving for their scheduled appointments to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Vohs Pharmacy was in charge of the vaccine clinic, using doses supplied by the Miami County Health Department. Some daycare providers also received the vaccine at the clinic.

“I’ve been really pleased. It’s going very smoothly — I think we are running a little ahead of schedule,” Cassi Vohs said.

She stood near a station where her husband Pharmacist Kevin Vohs was administering a dose of the vaccine midmorning Saturday, Feb. 13. In total, 170 vaccine doses were to be administered Saturday.

Louisburg High School Principal Jeremy Holloway was one of those recipients. Holloway said he was glad to receive the shot, and he thought most of the high school staff had signed up to receive the vaccine.

One of those staff members was Jarrod Worthington, a mathematics instructor at LHS. Worthington said he appreciated the school district and Vohs Pharmacy for setting it up.

Worthington said he thought the district had a good plan from the outset of the school year to keep students and staff safe. He had pledged to do everything he could to keep his students safe, and he said receiving the vaccine would provide one more layer of protection in that effort.

Worthington noted the vaccine shots were not mandatory for staff but he had no reservations.

“I wanted to get the vaccine. And in some ways I felt like it was my duty to get it,” Worthington said. “I wanted to do my part (to keep students and staff safe).”

Earlier that morning, Sen. Molly Baumgardner praised the county’s school districts for keeping their doors open and students in classrooms throughout the school year. The Louisburg Republican, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told the audience at a legislative coffee Saturday in Osawatomie that she was proud of the example the Paola, Osawatomie and Louisburg school districts had set for the rest of the state.

Vohs Pharmacy staff members were assisted Saturday by Superintendent Brian Biermann and some other USD 416 personnel, as well as Louisburg school board member Rob Vohs and other volunteers, including a few pharmacy students from the University of Kansas.

Cale Schneider, an LHS graduate and third-year pharmacy school student at KU, said the vaccine clinic was his first and he was enjoying the experience.

Schneider, an intern at Vohs Pharmacy, helped administer doses as well as check on Louisburg USD 416 staff members as they waited the required 15 minutes afterward to make sure they had no adverse reaction to the vaccine.

“This has been a good experience,” Schneider said. “And it’s been fun seeing some of my (former) teachers here.”

Macoy Johnson of Paola stands on the podium with the 113-pound placers. Johnson was runner-up in the Class 4A regional at Burlington on Friday, Feb. 12.