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Sunday, May 1, 2016

High repair costs ahead as Fulton and Izard Counties tackle flood damage

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A section of Old Sturkie Road, along the South Fork River, is impassable following recent heavy rain and flooding. The force of flood water washed a deep layer of gravel and large rocks over the road surface . This road is an example of the extensive damage, all over Fulton County, which will have to be repaired. Photo by Richard Irby
After days of driving flood damaged roads, Fulton County Judge Charles Willett sees more than a week of rainfall in financial terms.

"If we don't get some reimbursement, our road budget is shot," Willett said.

"At one time, we had twelve roads closed and some are still barely passable," added Emergency Management Director Darrell Zimmer.

Willett and Zimmer have found numerous instances where heavy water flow "blew out" culverts.

Raging water has also caused "major washouts," carrying off both paved and gravel road surfaces.

"We have been making temporary repairs and working to get every road open," said Willett. "We've tried to make sure at least one lane is open on roads where wash outs occurred."

That has been a big challenge because, in some cases, gravel has been hauled in and spread out, only to see the repairs washed away by new rainfall.

When swollen creeks and rivers settle down and dryer weather sets in, Willett is confident road crews will get the roads back in shape. But, with damage so widespread, repairs are sure to cost more than what has been budgeted for emergency road repairs.

"We're hoping for a federal disaster declaration, so we will qualify for reimbursement from FEMA," said Willett.

On Saturday, April 30, Governor Mike Beebe declared 54 of Arkansas' 75 counties disaster areas. Fulton, Izard and Sharp Counties are on the disaster area list.

The declaration came after a survey of statewide damage. The Governor's office believes widespread wind and water damage will lead to direct federal disaster assistance.

According to Willett, the state declaration will allow Fulton County to receive 35% state reimbursement of repair and recovery costs.

But, as the state tracks storm damage in Fulton and other counties, it will be able to obtain federal assistance, if damage totals surpass the amount needed to qualify for aid.

"I would say we have as much or more damage than what we received in 2008 (flooding)," Willett said.

After new rainfall last weekend, the outlook is even more grim.

"About all the repairs we made last week have been washed out again," Willett added. "We've got two to four mile sections that will have to be rebuilt on some roads and, after last weekend, we are also finding new damage."

In Izard County, the story is much the same.

"We were lucky. Tornadoes were tracked on radar but we never confirmed any tornadoes on the ground and there was no human toll, no injuries that we know of," said Bill Beebe, Izard County's Emergency Management Director.

But, like in Fulton County, Beebe and Road Director Ronnie Loggins have compiled a long list of damaged roads.

"We have suffered a lot of damage from flooding. A lot of roads are washed out and we have lost a lot of culverts," said Beebe.

County Judge David Sherrill declared a State of Emergency on April 26, the first step toward obtaining any state or federal aid that comes available.

But repair efforts are already in the early stages. The county will worry about paying for them later.

"We are going to have to fix these roads one way or another and we don't have a lot of money to do it," said Beebe.

He is optimistic storm damage across the state will pass the required threshold to qualify for FEMA reimbursement.

The second wave of thunderstorms last weekend should, unfortunately, only increase damage and repair costs.

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