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Officials review security of Willmar power plant after intruder incident

WILLMAR -- A recent intruder at the Willmar Power Plant has utilities staff and commissioners looking closely at plant security. Jon Folkedahl, director of electric production for Willmar Municipal Utilities, said a person who was under the influ...

The present Municipal Power Plant pictured in a May file photo is located at the intersection of 7th Street and Litchfield Avenue Southwest in Willmar. The plant's security was breached recently by an unknown intruder, who found his way to the roof before being secured. File photo / Rand Middleton / Tribune
The present Municipal Power Plant pictured in a May file photo is located at the intersection of 7th Street and Litchfield Avenue Southwest in Willmar. The plant's security was breached recently by an unknown intruder, who found his way to the roof before being secured. File photo / Rand Middleton / Tribune

WILLMAR - A recent intruder at the Willmar Power Plant has utilities staff and commissioners looking closely at plant security.

Jon Folkedahl, director of electric production for Willmar Municipal Utilities, said a person who was under the influence somehow got into the power plant, surprising plant workers.

"That is a hazardous situation," Folkedahl said.

The police were called, and a K-9 unit was brought to the scene. The person was found on the roof of the plant, apparently trying to hide, Folkedahl said. Folkedahl said the individual believed someone was chasing him, though no one was. The police took the individual to the hospital.

"He got a little confused," Folkedahl said.

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Folkedahl said this is the first time in recent memory anyone has been able to enter the plant without permission.

While no one is sure how the individual found his way into the plant, Folkedahl suspects a door probably did not latch properly. All of the power plant doors are either secured by electronic key pads or other digital locks to ensure unauthorized persons cannot enter the facility.

The incident has caused a new door maintenance policy to go into effect: All doors are checked monthly to make sure they are in working order.

While the staff goes through constant safety training in the plant, the public and law enforcement do not. Folkedahl hopes to start some joint training with police, so they know where they are going or what to avoid if they ever have to enter the plant again.

Willmar Utilities is also hoping to reduce the amount of pedestrian traffic cutting across the train tracks where the utilities unloads its train cars of coal.

"We have pedestrians in there all the time," Folkedahl said.

There are concrete barriers in place, but Folkedahl said a fence is now going up as well.

"Hopefully that will discourage foot traffic," Folkedahl said.

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The hope is to keep everyone safe. The plant and the area around it is full of hazards from trains and the cooling towers to the equipment in the plant itself. Keeping the plant secure should reduce the numbers of events like the one a few weeks ago.

"It is really to protect the public," Folkedahl said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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