MUSKOGEE, Okla. — When Muskogee County Emergency Management workers approached Camp Gruber officials about building an emergency road to Braggs, they were told it was “impossible.”
“Apparently they don’t know our men and the determination we have,” District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve built an impossible road.”
The seven-mile back road extends over the mountain behind Camp Gruber to enter Braggs, opening a route to bring supplies to the flood-locked town. Up to that point Braggs had become inaccessible by traditional thanks to the near-historic flooding of the Arkansas River.
The first of the supplies — water, food and more packed into a truck and trailer — arrived Monday morning brought in on the emergency road by a team headed up by Sheriff Rob Frazier. Food wasn’t the only relief the action team provided; the road enabled workers with Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Lake Region Electric Cooperative to restore the town’s power at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Doke said on Monday night efforts are underway to put in place a contingency plan to secure Union Pacific rail service to provide a backup supply line. That plan is being put in place by county and railroad officials.
“The reason we’re doing that is that rain is predicted for the next several days, and we are concerned that we could hold the relief road,” Doke said, noting the railroad would be used to deliver only supplies, not people. “We are working on a plan that would involve bringing in supplies with a rail truck on the railroad line between Fort Gibson and Braggs.”
Doke said county crews are working with the Oklahoma National Guard to complete the emergency relief road. He said the Guard has “more resources and materials we might not have access to” that would be available for the road.
It was the electricity situation that prompted the team to pursue construction of the back road. The emergency action team assembled by MCEM had predicted Braggs would be isolated due to flooded roads, Doke said, but they weren’t prepared for the power outage.
“They were stranded with literally none of the basics that you need for life over there,” Doke said. “We were already in a place where they’d been without electricity and food and water for some time.”
The loss of electricity on Thursday stemmed from a flooded substation at OG&E’s Muskogee plant. While other towns affected by the outage — Fort Gibson and Okay — had power restored comparatively quicker, the situation at Braggs presented a different problem.
“The feeder lines for OG&E were underwater,” Doke said. “When the water did come over and flood them, they only had X amount of fuel, they had generators running their sewer system, their water, everything.”
OG&E turned to Lake Region, which allowed the utility to “back-feed” power through the rural cooperative’s existing lines. The rerouting of power enabled them to restore electricity at Braggs.
“It took us some time yesterday to make that seven miles,” Doke said. “But we popped out on the other side of the mountain and traversed the mountain and got the power turned on by 7 o’clock last night.”
Once the power was back on, it was time to get people supplied. Doke said Muskogee County Assessor Ron Dean gathered enough supplies from local churches to fill a truck and trailer before Frazier transported them across the mountain.
It still wasn’t easy going — Doke said the emergency road isn’t a full path out of town.
“We made this stretch passable, but it was rough,” Doke said. “There was one hole that took eight truckloads of gravel to fill.”
Still, with the power on and supplies coming in, Braggs residents can breathe a little easier.
“There was a lot of people involved in this operation, and we got it done,” Doke said.