Glouster residents may be left in the dark, and even worse, some may be left without running water during the COVID-19 national emergency.
The matter was discussed during the Tuesday, March 17 Glouster Village Council meeting, but councilman Jimmy Holbert said he left the meeting “not sure what was going to happen.”
“They said we would talk about it at the next meeting, April 6,” he said Wednesday morning.
However, a note pinned to the outside of the Glouster Water and Electric office said differently: disconnections will take place for customers on March 23 with no prior notice.
Rumors swirled around town, with some saying the council members had already voted to continue utility shutoffs. This is not true, Holbert said.
“There was absolutely no vote,” he confirmed.
Glouster uses it’s own water and electric department, and is not part of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. PUCO approved emergency measures so utility service can continue to customers through the outbreak. The Commission also announced Friday that it would be extending the winter reconnect order through May 1. This allows the Commission to maintain or reconnect electric and natural gas service during the heating season.
Additionally, PUCO-regulated utilities were ordered to review their policies and identify where it may be prudent to suspend for the duration of the pandemic any policies that would impose a service restoration hardship or create an “unnecessary risk of human contact.”
“The Commission also encourages those utilities not regulated by the PUCO to implement similar procedures,” the PUCO press release stated.
The city of Athens recently suspended its water shutoffs during the emergency, and other regions have taken similar steps. Payment is still required, but the shutoff will not occur during the emergency time period.
The purpose of suspending shutoffs is to help stop or slow the spread of the coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, frequent and proper hand washing is one of the most important measures to prevent infection of the virus. Second to that is maintaining safe drinking-water and sanitation services, according to guidelines released March 3.
For many Athens County residents, the potential to suspend public utilities shutoffs was a potential help as many service industry and labor jobs have been discontinued during the emergency. One Glouster resident reached out to The Messenger Wednesday, stating she has three children to care for and her husband has been out of work due to job sites being cancelled. The water and electric service for their household will be shutoff on March 23, according to a note on the Glouster Water and Electric Office.
“With respect to shutoff policies, Governor DeWine has not implemented a statewide mandate regarding utility disconnect policies,” the note read. “The PUCO order late last week is only applicable to regulated utilities. Rural cooperatives and municipal electric utilities are not subject to PUCO jurisdiction.”
Glouster combines its electric and water payments into one bill for customers. According to the office clerk, about 1,000 customers use the Glouster Water and Electric Department.
To help as jobs and regional events began to fade over the past week, a few mutual aid groups sprung up around the area. One, Mutual Aid Southeast Ohio, formed on Facebook as a way to share resources, get information and help others during “this confusing time.”
On Tuesday, a post from HAPCAP employee Claire Gysegem asked for donations to help reconnect water access for nine households in the Glouster/Bishopville area sprung up. A few hours later, she had raised about $150 for the bills. However, the total cost for all of the households to reconnect is about $2,000.
With the matter seemingly decided on for March, Glouster Village Council will revisit the issue during its April 6 meeting.