City’s utilities switch up operations during virus

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — Utility departments in Huntingburg are operating differently during this time of novel coronavirus.

The street department has been shut down. But various workers come in on call to do necessary work, Street Superintendent Jason Stamm said.

“We’ve basically only been doing the things that are maybe a potential hazard,” he said.

For instance, someone checks to see if there are any line locations that need to be done. “When somebody is going to dig, they have to call in at 811. So we have to go out and mark or storm sewers for that,” Stamm said. “So I have a guy come in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to do those.”

Another worker comes in on weekdays to take care of mowing. “We’ve got numerous lots throughout town that we have to mow,” Stamm said. “The grass didn’t take any time off for the coronavirus. It’s continuing to grow.”

Workers are still being paid, but they are on call. And the department can do the jobs it has the supplies for, like crack sealing work, grating alleys and sweeping streets. “We can do things that don’t cost a lot of money to do,” Stamm said.

When any worker works outside, they stay a safe distance from others. “I instruct them to do the things that the health department said to do,” Stamm said, “so that they don’t infect themselves or anybody else.”

The department finished up a project on Second Avenue that was started before the virus hit and the shutdown took place. And some trees that were delivered to the department were planted. But other than that, “I’ve just been calling guys in here and there, whenever we’ve had something come up that we’ve needed to do,” Stamm said. “But for the most part, the 7 to 3:30 working every day has been out. We haven’t been doing that for four weeks.”

The only street project that is on hold is Chestnut Street, which will use a 2019 Community Crossings grant.

“We’ve got it under contract, but the contractor is not here working on it,” Stamm said. “We’ve kind of put it off until things kind of get back to normal.”

Other street projects that depend on revenue from the state are on hold as well. But part of the problem is the funding.

“We don’t know whether our funding through the state, which is revenue generated through the gas tax and things like property taxes,” Stamm said, “we don’t know how all this is gonna affect that.”

The state has announced that fuel purchases have decreased dramatically since March, when the virus was recognized as being here.

The gas and electric departments are also working with a reduced workforce.

“We’re doing only essential work,” Superintendent John Reutopohler said. “We do new hookups and upgrades that are needed. And we do troubleshooting. If a customer has a problem, we’ll have someone on staff to take care of it.”

Long-term projects have been put on hold. “Those are the projects that are not mandatory, but we have been working on,” he said. “Like improving our infrastructure, setting new poles. The projects are not essential. Any project that can be put off for several months, we’re putting them off.”

The workers who do come in to work are practicing social distancing. “If we do have to get closer, we are to wear masks,” Reutopohler said. “But right now, we basically have one person working in each department, to take care of any small items that get called in.”

Water Superintendent Gary Meyerholtz is also taking precautions in his department.

“We’re making sure that no one goes into the water filter plant that doesn’t need to be there. We’re trying to work one man at a time,” he said. “For the distribution end, we’re trying to keep everybody separated and still do the jobs.”

The workers have protective gear, like masks, available. “It’s available if they want to use them,” Meyerholtz said.

And the water main project along U.S. 231 is still being worked on by the contractor. “It’s proceeding as scheduled,” Meyerholtz said, “at least for the time being.”




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