When the snow hit on Feb. 14, 2021, no one knew that would be the start of no water and electricity for many residents of Tyler for a week or longer.

As the days went on, residents went into survival mode, doing what they could to get water, heat and food.

However, as the snow melted, the hands that were extended to help curled into fists of anger. How did this happen? Who allowed this to happen?

There were a lot of emotions. Those emotions were not just from our readers and residents of Tyler. Those emotions were working in the walls of the Tyler Morning Telegraph newsroom.

As much as we wanted to post on social media and write an opinion on the storm, we needed to plan, gather facts and present those facts to the public.

We already had unprecedented photos, stories and videos from eight days of being out on the roads, visiting homes, hotels, businesses, plow drivers, and agencies. We had stacks and stacks of digital photos from our readers.

But we didn’t have the truth.

Starting the last week of February, we began requesting documents showing the history of the infrastructure in Tyler, repairs and future plans. Several departments in the city came together to provide the information.

Over the next three weeks, members of the city council, the public information staff, the mayor and the city manager all came into the Tyler Morning Telegraph offices to discuss the storm issues with our editorial board.

There was no time limit and no questions were off-limits.

As the series rolled out, readers realized this. One letter we received said, “I just wanted to take a short moment to express how much I enjoyed and appreciated your paper’s three-part article on the City of Tyler’s preparation prior to, management-reactions during and postmortem analysis for the Great Storm of ’21. Also, their plans going forward to ensure Tyler is better prepared for another extended ‘historical low-temperature weather pattern.’”

However, the letter-writer, Preston Izard of Troup, also recognized something else. He said, “And, kudos to the City of Tyler for giving the Tyler Paper access to the personnel and information used in your article.”

Transparency.

It’s the reason we did not see negative comments. The city was able to present what they saw each meeting leading up to the storm and knowing a plan was, and is still, in place to improve infrastructure. Instead of shifting the blame and making statements against other agencies, the city clearly explained where the breakdown took place and what has to be done.

The city will work with and not against other agencies.

From the series, “Officials will continue working with the electrical company Oncor to ensure the city’s critical infrastructures are on their own service lines to prevent cuts during rolling blackouts. The city staff is also evaluating how to store more water-treatment chemicals onsite at the treatment facilities in the event of not being able to receive deliveries for multiple days. This would help to ensure residents will have drinking water and not need to boil, according to the city plans.”

Tyler Mayor Don Warren explained how the city was minutes away from a month-long blackout during the storm in February because of power grid issues brought on by the below-freezing temperatures.

Warren went a step further and said, “If I had a do-over, I would have (got) the word out one day sooner. Because when the public heard that the Lake Palestine plant was down and Golden Road could only supply 22 million gallons and it takes 30 million gallons to feed the city, all of a sudden people were saying ‘now I get it.’ And that’s when things started turning and I think we were one day off.”

Tyler City Manager Ed Broussard stressed the importance of learning what happened with the generator at the Lake Palestine plant and how the employees had to work to get it back on line during the storm.

We applaud the transparency and the look at the history the city worked with us in providing for the first two parts. In our opinion, it’s the reason the third part was so well-received. With everything in context, it’s easy to see the vision that has been in place for years.

The city plans to invest more than $22 million in the water system over the next five years. It was something important to District 3 Councilwoman Dr. Shirley McKellar, as she spent a lot of time talking to residents in her district, not just hearing their complaints but outlying what was in place to fix it.

In a two-phase project, the city is developing a water utility system inventory. The first phase began in January 2019 and the second phase started in April of 2020.

The inventory will assist in showing where pressure improvements are needed. The inventory will include the diameter of the pipes, type of piping material, the location of the pipes and their corresponding length.

In phase two, there will be a digitization of the archived water plans, identifying data gaps and developing a geographic information system web map. The inventory will also be used for a hydraulic computer model of the distribution system to be used for planning purposes.

We are looking forward to reporting on the results of the phases as we can all understand what happens the next time an epic storm hits.

— Tyler Morning Telegraph

 
 

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Editor

John is a two-time national columnist of the year and AP award-winner in Texas and New York for breaking news, videos and sports. He earned the Thomas J. Bulson Investigative Journalism award and has appeared on CNBC's American Greed, FOX and CNN.