As chief executive officer, Fulton County Judge Charles Willett is spearheading the juggernaut of repairing over 2,000 miles of 596 county roads, each and every one damaged by the recent onslaught of precipitation in the area.
"After the rain we filed an emergency proclamation with the state of Arkansas on March 18. We started doing assessments to try and figure out how much damage we had. The road department broke up into 10 or 11 teams and I sent them in every direction. After we all got back together we figured out that on 596 different roads we had damage all throughout Fulton County," he said.
"It looks like it will be a minimum of $3,000 per-road and up to $20,000 plus. Our road crew has started working daylight to dark six days a week to get these roads repaired. We are just doing temporary repairs right now to get everything open so people can get out to go to work and emergency vehicles can get through in the case that someone needs an ambulance or the police," Willett said.
According to Willett, the last completely impassable road was Whippoorwill Road in Wheeling. The road had a section several car lengths wide and 10-feet deep that had eroded away. The resulting gully was filled with a new culvert, dirt and rock and is now passable.
"We will continue temporary work for probably the next couple of weeks and then we will start permanent work," he said.
The majority of the roads in Fulton?County are gravel and the force of flood water has caused substantial erosion of the road surfaces in many areas.
"We are looking at a situation now where there is in an excess of $1.5 million in damage. So, this isn't something we can fix in just a month or two. This will probably be a year-plus process, getting all the roads put back together," Willett said.
"We did confirm on March 20 that we have been declared a disaster from the state. We still don't know about federal. I talked to Arkansas State Rep. Curren Everett recently and he said he didn't know if it would be a federal declaration. With all the counties that are filing for the disaster, damages have to total $3.2 million and Fulton County is looking at estimations of $1.5 million alone. So, it should go federal. Which, that way, instead of getting 35 percent reimbursement, we get a little over 80 percent on our cost," Willett said.
"This much damage can basically bankrupt the county. Our total budget for a year is around $1.3 million and out of that over $600,000 is for salaries for the 22 people that work for the county. So, you can see where we stand when we take a $1.5 million dollar hit," he said.
Willett said the county is working hard and has started down the path of recovery. "I just ask that everyone be patient. I really appreciate everyone that is working with us. If people have any major problems they need to call my office at 870-895-3341 or the county shop at 870-895-2389 and we will try to get it fixed as quick as possible," he said.
"We are running into the situation right now where a lot of our dirt roads are pumping up and there are a lot of soft spots we are going to have to dig out. So, people should be very careful where they drive because a person can sink," Willett said.