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City's boil notice, conservation order lifted

The City of Kilgore announced the end to a strict citywide water conservation order and a boil notice on Tuesday morning.

Water conservation had been mandated for all of Kilgore in the wake of damage caused by a record-breaking week-long winter storm last week. The subfreezing temperatures caused a large number of broken and damaged pipes in the city and at the well field where Kilgore draws its municipal water supply.

Residents were being urged to continue boiling all water used for human consumption until the city’s water quality could be tested.

“This means you can get caught up on laundry, wash the salt off your car, and take a slightly longer shower. We should always practice water conservation, but the extraordinary conservation measures are over!” the city said in a note on Facebook.

In the post, the city also encouraged residents to wash their cars thoroughly, as the salt and sand mixture used to reduce slippery ice at city intersections can cause rust on vehicles if not washed off.

Citizens may experience discolored water, the city said, because water had settled in lines over the last week. Water can be cleared by flushing your home’s lines.

“City crews will also be undertaking flushing over the next week to maintain water quality,” the city said.

Kilgore police officers and firefighters had clocked nine consecutive days of relief efforts, working to assist a city blanketed by a record-setting winter storm, by Monday afternoon.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Kilgore first responders, alongside city staff, were coordinating the second community-wide distribution of bottled water behind Brookshire’s on U.S. 259.

A Fort Worth-based Texas Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane delivered 16 pallets of boxed water to Gregg County Airport Saturday night, said city archivist Bill Woodall, who was at Brookshire’s Monday to lend a hand loading cases of water into cars.

The Texas Department of Emergency Management coordinated with Gregg County Sheriff’s Office to arrange the emergency delivery but the effort was overseen by Kilgore PD Support Lieutenant Terry Linder.

“He is the city’s director of emergency management,” Woodall said.

“He’s the one that filled out all the paperwork. He sent requests to everybody. I know he’s the one who found this,” he added, gesturing to the stacked cases of water.

Monday’s efforts were preceded by another water distribution event Saturday, when 1,700 cases of water were distributed to locals.

Lt. Linder, who joined the relief effort during the first snowfall last Sunday night, said he and other first responders had been unable to count how many locals came by for water supplies Saturday.

“We don’t even know how many came by Saturday. We figured out it was about 1,700 cases of water. We’re giving anywhere from one to three cases per car. At first, we thought about having someone try to track it, but then we had about 40 people in the line and we tried to keep the line moving to keep it from backing onto Hwy. 42,” Linder said.

More than 100 vehicles came by to pick up water Monday morning at the second distribution event, which began at 10 a.m., with some drivers picking up extra cases of water to deliver to friends and neighbors.

Before the distribution began, Linder said, KPD and seven local volunteers had made hundreds of deliveries of water when the snowy weather was at its worst, as many in Kilgore were snowed in at home without water as the local well field and citywide water pipes were plagued with dozens of small leaks and ruptures caused by the bitterly cold freeze.

Lending a Hand: Kilgore-area residents take care of each other during winter storm
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Skipper and KT Wright of Liberty City woke up extra early Thursday morning, got in their Jeep with 37-inch wheels and took to East Texas roads to help nurses, doctors and hospital staff members get to work at Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center so they could care for patients in the community.

“It’s been a pleasure helping. They do so much for us,” Skipper Wright said. “And this is personal to me.”

Wright has Stage 4 cancer. He’s been visiting Texas Oncology in Longview for treatment, but he said it is all medical personnel that matter to him, regardless of where they work.

“They do so much me, so if I can help them in any way, that’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “They take care of us way more than we do them. If all I’ve got to do is pick them up and take them home, that’s a small thing to do for them.”

The Wrights are two of many Kilgore-area residents who took care of their neighbors this past week when a winter storm dumped between 6 to 8 inches and then another 3-5 inches of snow, sleet and ice on the area.

The Wrights are among dozens upon dozens of Jeep owners who have participated in a large-scale effort coordinated by the nonprofit organization, E.T. Jeep Outlaws, to transport hospital staff members to and from work each day so they could continue providing medical care to the community.

“Every single one of the individuals here, I can’t put a value on what they mean to us,” said Christus Good Shepherd’s Vice President of Operations Jim Gaton as he looked out Thursday upon a sea of Jeep owners lined up at the hospital’s South Entrance. “At the end of the day, because of them, we’re able to care for our patients and the community.”

The partnership between Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center and E.T. Jeep Outlaws started about three years ago during a previous storm during which Jeep owners helped staff get to work. That storm paled in comparison to this week’s winter weather, but Justen Hollis, president and founder of E.T. Jeep Outlaws, said Jeep owners mobilized once again for the cause.

Each day last week, Christus Good Shepherd has sent Hollis a list of employees who need a ride to and from work. Hollis then coordinated those rides with Jeep owners across East Texas.

Jeep owners have come from Kilgore, Longview and the surrounding area to participate, and they’ve transported hospital staff members and even patients as far as Marshall, Tyler, Gilmer and Henderson to help them get safely to and from their homes.

“This has by far been the biggest experience of something like this that we’ve done, just because we’ve never seen this much ice and snow in East Texas,” Hollis said. “If it wasn’t for all of my Jeep members and all of these people here, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all.”

In between taking Christus staff and patients to and from home or work, Jeep owners have driven the area’s roadways providing help to those in need.

KT Wright said on Wednesday the couple went to a store to buy batteries that they delivered to a family in Diana that was in need of batteries to keep an insulin pump running. They’ve also delivered pizzas to staff at the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center. Wright said the most difficult challenge late last week was availability of fuel.

While Wright and others were traversing area roads as an ad hoc taxi service, Kilgore police, the nonprofit Helping Hands of Kilgore, volunteers and others mobilized to provide free bottled water and produce to Kilgore residents on Monday.

The distributions were contact free due to COVID-19 precautions as police officers and volunteers loaded items in to vehicles.

Helping Hands Director Ursula Plaisance counted about 250 families receiving produce from 10 a.m. to noon Monday. The produce comes from the East Texas Food Bank.

“Kilgore is a very close-knit family when there’s any kind of tragedy or need,” Plaisance said. “We’re glad to still be meeting some needs here.”

Donna Young attended both distributions because she could not find what she needed at local stores. Robina Clark said she did not lose her water, but a tree fell in her yard due to the weight of the snow and ice.

Kimbley Roberts said she was used to winter storms having lived in Maine previously, moving to Kilgore about four years ago.

“I’ve been through this before,” she said. She and her family lost water to parts of their home. But their experience enabled them to help others during the week.

“My husband did a lot of driving to help out people and stuff,” Roberts said, “bringing them what water we could and taking trips to the store and stuff.”

Being able to have fresh produce is helpful to her family, she said.

Sgt. Vance Callahan worked on produce distribution along with Assistant Chief Johnathan Gage, Victim Services Coordinator Jonathan Latham and others. Callahan said he also worked Saturdays bottled water distribution though it was his day off.

“Saturday was 23 pallets, totaled over 46,000 bottles,” Callahan said.

Latham said his job last week was mostly organizing volunteers and helpers.

“Mainly contacting people trying to get folks to help people that were in need,” he said. “And they stepped up. We did wonderful. Kilgore people are good folks.”

Christina Cavazos and Courtney Stern reported this story.

Schools return to normal classes

Kilgore-area schools were slowly getting back to normal on Tuesday as the city’s water system returned to normal.

Kilgore ISD cancelled school Monday and Tuesday because of the water challenges, offering grab-and-go meals Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Kilgore High School and Chandler Elementary. An announcement on Wednesday’s classes had not been made by press time.

Meanwhile, Kilgore College resumed normal operations on Tuesday, reopening both the Kilgore and Longview campuses. The school asked people to bring bottled water/sodas on Tuesday if they wanted something to drink because the city was still under a boil notice. They were also encouraging people to use hand sanitizer after washing their hands.

The college noted Monday that the water is shut off at the KC-Longview’s Hendrix Building, so students, faculty and staff were to access restrooms in the cosmetology building or the Longview North building.

Leverett’s Chapel ISD was also closed Tuesday but anticipated being back in classrooms on Wednesday.

“The school has been informed that the LC water needs one more day to test everything before everyone is back in school using the restroom facilities,” the district said on Monday. “For this reason, the school will be closed on Tuesday, February 23rd. We are very confident everything should be back to normal by Wednesday. Another message will be sent out tomorrow to let everyone know about Wednesday. Thank you to our parents for your patience and understanding during this time period.”

Kilgore College tuition, fees will not increase next year

Kilgore College trustees announced at Tuesday’s board meeting that tuition and fees will not increase for the 2021-2022 academic year as a direct response to financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The college administration is not recommending an increase in tuition or general education fees at this time for the coming year,” said Larry Woodfin, chair of the Investment/Finance/Audit Committee.

“All tuition and general education fees will remain the same as last year.”

According to the college, tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year are as follows:

In-District Student (per semester):

  • Tuition — $53 per semester hour
  • General Education Fee — $37 per semester hour
  • Total — $90 per semester hour

Out-of-District Student (per semester):

  • Tuition — $53 per semester hour
  • Out-of-District Fee — $79 per semester hour
  • General Education Fee — $37 per semester hour
  • Total — $169 per semester hour

Non-Resident (Out-of-State and International) Student (per semester):

  • Tuition — $103 per semester hour
  • Out-of-District Fee — $79 per semester hour
  • General Education Fee — $37 per semester hour
  • Total — $219 per semester hour

Woodfin cited the COVID-19 pandemic causing financial hardships for students and the college as the reason for the decision.

He also noted other costs associated with attending Kilgore College have fluctuated, some rising and some falling, as a result of the pandemic.

“Some consumables have gone up and you will see that some have decreased based on recommendations from instructional department heads and deans and prices charged by vendors. Residential student fees (for room and board) have seen a $60 reduction in the board rate reflecting the college’s return on a regular operating contract with Aramark.”

All trustees raised their hands to signal their approval of the decision.

Trustees voted in 2019, as well as 2015 and 2016, to increase tuition rates. These decisions were partially inspired by a decline in student enrollment numbers. However, the college saw a slight rebound in enrollment numbers in the fall of 2019 and the campus is steadily working to increase its offerings of classes and certification programs. At Tuesday’s meeting, trustee and department heads discussed plans to bring CDL certification and testing onto the campus, as well as plans to begin offering junior and senior-level college courses at KC in the near future.