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Second construction problem knocks out downtown Waynesville power
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (Jan. 27, 2009) — County commissioners wanted to make sure their new generator would work, but they got an unexpected test Friday when construction workers demolishing the Mitchell Block of buildings knocked down a power line and knocked out power to much of downtown.

“I looked at that flame coming off that line and I was afraid somebody was going to get killed,” said Commissioner Bill Farnham.

In previous years, the power outage would have left workers in the county courthouse unable to conduct business, shut down the sheriff’s dispatch center, and plunged more than two dozen jail inmates into the dark. None of that happened this time due to the county having a working emergency generator.

However, other areas of downtown Waynesville did have outages and the downed electrical pole caused problems with other power lines besides the one that snapped.

“I don’t know if the excavator bumped the pole or what, but I saw a blue flame about four to give feet. The first thing that came to my mind was somebody might have been injured,” Farnham said. “One of the wires that runs behind my house dropped about six feet, was still live and was almost touching one of my vehicles.”

Farnham, who lives in downtown Waynesville, said city electric crews responded promptly to the incident. No one was injured and power was rapidly restored to the area, Farnham said.

What’s commonly known as the “Mitchell Block” included a group of buildings on Historic Route 66 running from the former site of Paradise Deli east through a number of buildings including a vacant storefront building that at one point contained a barber shop and a satellite television store. During Monday morning’s commission meeting, Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall asked Farnham, who until three years ago was on the Waynesville City Council, whether he knew what will be built on the Mitchell Block and when construction might begin.

“What was in the paper was a two-story retail office complex,” Farnham said.

“They were looking at the post office being in there, too, I understand,” Ransdall said.

The post office plans are probably on hold for now, however. Waynesville City Administrator Bruce Harrill previously announced that postal officials have decided on a nationwide basis to minimize new construction projects.

Friday’s incident was the second construction problem with the Mitchell Block project to affect the downtown area. According to Harrill, about 50 homes and 20 to 30 businesses lost their water on Wednesday when heavy equipment operators broke a downtown water line that cut off water service to most downtown homes and businesses.

“A lot of the downtown area was out of water east of the bridge and north of (Highway) 17,” Harrill said. “There are some residential customers who were out of water but not many compared to the whole city.”

The demolition project is being conducted by members of the Mitchell family, a longtime Waynesville family whose heirs have moved out of the area but wanted to invest in revitalization of the community. Some family members, including Baltimore resident Jennifer Hubley, have extensive experience in real estate development.

Ransdall said it’s good that having a generator available will make it possible for the Pulaski County Courthouse basement to be used as an emergency storm shelter if power goes out for an extended period in the area, and said it’s important to make sure someone has a key to open the shelter. Ransdall noted that another Ozarks community had major problems when people came to a shelter that wasn’t open.

“If this ice storm does move through here, the courthouse here is an emergency center,” Ransdall said. “After that fiasco last year where KY3 made such a big deal about everybody running to the shelter and they came to a place and nobody could get in it, I’ll go through and remind them that they need to be able to open the building so people can get in if they need to.”

Farnham said he’d also like to see the county commissioners get proper wording on a sign directing people to each of the emergency shelters available in Pulaski County so residents know where to seek safety from storms.

While grateful to have the emergency generator available, Ransdall said he’s concerned about high maintenance and repair costs on a proposed contract.

“That seems high to me. I know some pretty good diesel mechanics, but maybe they don’t want to be working around power like that,” Ransdall said.

Commissioners agreed to get further information on what the maintenance contract work would involve and report back at a future meeting.

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