Six months after an angry crowd shouted down the idea, Izard County Quorum Court has approved work to write a hazard mitigation plan, the first step toward obtaining federal funds for improvement projects.
"The motion we've got on the floor is to proceed with the plan. It's not to adopt," said County Judge David Sherrell, at the Feb. 8 Quorum Court meeting. The court met one week later than normal, because bad weather forced cancellation of the scheduled Feb. 1 meeting.
Sherrell explained the county has been approved for a $50,000 grant to write a plan describing the prime hazards the county faces, such as tornadoes and floods, and suggest ways to reduce damage and injuries when future disasters hit.
Most Arkansas counties have written hazard mitigation plans, because they allow governments to seek grants from FEMA, the federal disaster agency, to pay for mitigation projects.
Last summer, then County Judge Rayburn Finley began work to obtain a grant to write a mitigation plan. On July 15, 2010, representatives from FEMA and Arkansas Emergency Management came to explain to Quorum Court the advantages of participating in the hazardous mitigation program.
The audience at the meeting was full of opponents who interrupted state and federal officials with charges that hazard mitigation was a federal plot to take peoples' land and water rights or interfere with what private property owners can do on their own land.
The meeting was so contentious, the state and federal representative left and some Quorum Court members have opposed further discussion about writing a hazardous mitigation plan.
Judge Sherrell told Quorum Court members he had traveled to Little Rock and spent "countless hours" researching the issue.
"As of this moment, I haven't got anything negative to say about it," said Sherrell. "I've heard negative things, but I can disprove most of those negative things."
Sherrell cautioned, however, he supported only putting together a community organization to write a mitigation plan. In about a year, Sherrell pledged Quorum Court and the community would decide whether to participate in the actual mitigation program.
In Fulton County last year, a committee spent a lot of time and money on a hazard mitigation plan. But, due to public opposition, Quorum Court voted down implementing the plan and seeking FEMA grants.
As the new county judge, Sherrell has discussed the urgent need to improve bridges in Izard County. With the county facing severe financial problems, FEMA grants are about the only option to pay for upgrading deficient bridges, allowing ambulances and fire trucks to reach all areas of the county in an emergency.
Attendance at the Feb. 8 meeting was small, perhaps because of inclement weather. Only one resident and one council member spoke against accepting the grant to help fund writing a hazard mitigation plan.
Councilman Eric Smith said, "I missed the meeting that was so controversial when they (state and federal officials) were here to talk about it. So, all I've heard is the bad things."
When the vote to proceed with the planning process was taken, it narrowly passed, by a five to four margin.
In other business, Bill Beebe, Director of the Office of Emergency Management, told JPs that the county has not spent $19,996 of a 2008 grant for fire and law enforcement improvements and faces losing the money if it is not spent by May.
Beebe proposed the funds be used to buy mobile radios to be placed in fire vehicles and hand held portable radios for individual use to upgrade fire department communications.
The appropriation was approved.
JPs also gave approval to accepting a $14,682 grant for improvements to the Family Living Exhibit Building at the fairgrounds. Work to install a high tech video and audio system and upgrade the kitchen is already underway, but grant approval was needed after it was mistakenly left out of the 2010 budget.
When the Quorum Court approved its 2011 budget, it left out allocations to nonprofit agencies who provide programs to assist the county and its residents, because citizens questioned the legality of giving government money to nonprofits and private businesses.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, JPs approved an appropriation to the North Central Arkansas Development Council, which operates the county's senior centers and meals on wheels programs.
Court attorney Brad Sipe explained a written contract will be signed hiring the organization to provide specific services, to clear up any questions about the legality of the agreement.
A final discussion centered on the long delayed effort to install a new radio communications system for emergency responders and county agencies.
JP Justin Sanders reported a communications company, which surveyed the county, has concluded that the new tower should be built on the same mountain where the current, outdated system is located.
Efforts are under way to buy a small parcel of land to house the new tower and support building.
The big issue facing the county is how to pay for the project, estimated at more than $200,000.
The county has been unable to find any grants it can apply for to help cover the cost.
Under a national deadline, all radio communication systems must be upgraded by 2013 or operators will face major fines.
The next meeting of the Izard County Quorum Court is scheduled for March 1 at 6 p.m.