Officials in Stoddard County, Bloomfield try to smooth relations with SEMO Electric

Saturday, March 8, 2008

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — Two high-ranking members of the SEMO Electric Cooperative were in Bloomfield on Tuesday morning to meet with county and city officials about the February ice storms.

The meeting, held at Bloomfield City Hall, had a few heated exchanges, but in general was considered to be productive.

President Reuben Jeane and communications director Glen Cantrell came in an effort to smooth over relations following what county and city officials viewed as poor performance during the recent ice storm.

"To the co-op this has been the worst storm in years," Jeane told the crowd of about 10 people. "We began seeing outages at 7:30 Monday night and just went downhill from there."

In response to a question about whether enough workers were sent to Bloomfield, he acknowledged that "being human, a lot of times we don't make the right decision."

"Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we might say things we should have kept to ourselves," Jeane said. "Based on the recent events, we've already began reviewing emergency procedures and making adjustments to some policies."

Stoddard County emergency manager John Prance offered several suggestions for the co-op stemming from his involvement in the storms.

His first suggestion was to request that the co-op communicate better with Stoddard County Emergency Management.

"When you communicate with the county Emergency Operation Center you are talking to the entire county," said Prance, who added that it would decrease their phone call load from the county. Prance said that during the storm, his only contact with the co-op was Wednesday evening and a call Thursday morning.

Jeane said that the Coop began putting into place a communications department before the storm.

"Basically, we're setting up a war room," said Cantrell, who was hired in January to head the department. "I will be the person you contact in this type of emergency."

Cantrell added that in the event of a major storm, he will hold two daily news conferences and be available to both officials and media representatives. The system was not in place in time for February's storms, but both said it is definitely a work in progress.

Another suggestion from Prance and Bloomfield Alderman Tom Bischof was to rethink the way they prioritize certain services and return their power.

Jeane then suggested that the municipalities and the county draw up a comprehensive list of their priorities, including what buildings and equipment have battery backups or generators, and the coop would do what they can to work them in that order.

"Our first priority is those main feeder lines," Jeane said. "If they're down, no one on them is going to have power. Our goal is to fix the problems that will get the largest number of people back on line at a time."

The majority of the officials present at the meeting said they saw it as productive and a step in the right direction. The officials plan to meet again with Jeane and Cantrell in the future to see what has been accomplished so that all agencies can better work together.

Bloomfield Mayor Raymond McAnally and Stoddard County Associate Commissioner Frank Sifford thanked everyone for coming and being willing to sit and talk despite their differences.

"I've really learned a lot today," Sifford said.

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