Commission pushes forward to reboot idled severe weather warning program

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 2/13/21

HERMANN — Despite Punxatawney Phil’s forecast of six more weeks of winter, Gasconade County officials are looking ahead to the potential for severe spring weather as they push forward to …

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Commission pushes forward to reboot idled severe weather warning program

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HERMANN — Despite Punxatawney Phil’s forecast of six more weeks of winter, Gasconade County officials are looking ahead to the potential for severe spring weather as they push forward to re-establish an automated countywide weather alert program.

The County Commission Thursday morning, meeting at Owensville City Hall, directed new Emergency Management Director (EMD) Clyde Zelch to make a reboot of the weather alert program a priority. Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore, R-Owensville, is adamant that the program be brought back on line as soon as possible.

“Let’s start from Square One,” Lairmore told Zelch, who attended the administrative panel’s first-Thursday-of-the-month session in Owensville. “We've been talking about this for quite some time.”

Indeed, the plug was pulled on the automated telephone alert program by previous EMD Kris Bayless after the county’s Emergency Operations Center received a large number of complaints from residents irritated with receiving repeated calls about the same approaching round of bad weather. Rather than remove individuals who did not want to receive telephone alerts from the system, the entire program was unhooked, officials said.

Zelch said he, too, recently realized the absence of weather alert calls. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten an alert,” he said.

More than a year, in fact. Outgoing EMD Dan Dyer, who returned to the post Jan. 1 of last year, had been planning to reconnect the weather alert program, but passed the task along to his successor after he decided to resign the office because of family health matters.

Zelch told the county administrators Thursday morning that he and Dyer have started working on getting the weather alert program back in operation. “We’re struggling now to get all land-line people back on line,” he said.

One thing that complicates the re-establishment of the program is that a county resident can contact the EOC to “opt in” to be contacted. But Lairmore, Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, and Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland, R-Hermann, believe the program should be “opt out” rather than opt in. That is, residents, who don’t want to receive possible multiple calls of the same weather system moving into their area should contact the EOC and be removed from the call list, rather than requiring residents to contact the agency to be placed on the call list.

“Everybody in Gasconade County was on the list and it changed,” Lairmore said. “And I don’t understand why. I think they should be on it automatically.”

Another hurdle for some residents is the lack of Internet access at their home — especially in the outlying portions of the county — with which to contact the EOC to be placed on the call list. The number of residents in this group concerns Lairmore. 

“I don’t like them sitting out there and not getting calls. I wish you would put that as a priority,” the associate commissioner said.

“I will get this fixed,” Zelch replied.

In other matters Thursday morning, County Treasurer Mike Feagan said “We are about at the point” to begin distributing the remaining CARES Act money. The program of allocating federal dollars to local government entities, businesses and not-for-profit organizations hurt by the coronavirus pandemic ended Dec. 30 with more than $67,000 of the county’s $1.725 million unallocated. State government has granted counties an extension until June 1 to disperse any remaining funds or return it. The federal money was passed down to the counties from the state.

There are more than a dozen applications from Gasconade County pending with Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) for a portion of the remaining CARES Act money. 

There is a chance — but no certainty — that another round of coronavirus-relief legislation by Congress will include additional dollars for businesses and non-profit groups. In case there is, county officials say applications should continue to be filed with MRPC. But Miskel cautioned would-be applicants not to be overly optimistic about receiving payment. “I have no idea if we’re going to get more funding,” the presiding commissioner said.

With the county expected to be in the grip of a hard freeze this week, crews of the Gasconade County Road Department were planning to park the road graders and pick up the chainsaws for their annual tree-trimming work.

Miskel noted that additional gravel has been put down on several county roads, especially Zastrow and First Creek roads — the two county roads used as the detour around the First Creek bridge replacement on Route J. The primary detour is Route F to Highway 19.

“Basically, getting them read for the cold spell coming up,” Miskel said, “because once the ground is frozen there’s no grading.”

Lairmore said this is the time of year crews take down trees in the right-of-way and remove dangerous limbs hanging over the roads. Holland commended the Road Department for efforts in maintaining Zastrow and First Creek roads at the outset of the  bridge replacement.

The commissioners also signed off on requests to waive penalties on three property tax payments received recently by Collector Shawn Schlottach. All three were postmarked before Dec. 31.

Incidentally, the $9,000-plus tax payment of  CenturyTel was finally received by the county late last month —  more than a month after it and 2,400 other pieces of mail were put into the mail Dec. 23 by the Monroe, Louisiana-based telecommunications company.

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