BY MELANIE BUCK –
Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison submitted, and won, an appeal for the denial of funds through FEMA for the replacement of a bridge on Polk 62 that was damaged in the May 30, 2013 flood. Ellison first applied for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding after the area was an officially “declared event.”
FEMA denied the funding based upon, “noncompliance with maintenance recommendations, as contained in the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s report, dated October 23, 2012.” FEMA determined the failure of the bridge is directly attributed to deferred maintenance noted on the bridge report instead of being “a direct result of the declared event.” The 2012 report, written more than seven months before the flood that destroyed the bridge, showed that there were existing bridge deficiencies.
However, unwilling to take no for an answer, Ellison’s appeal contended that the deficiencies listed, such as cracked concrete footings and timber columns out of plumb, had not created safety issues as proven by the amount of heavy traffic that used the bridge up until the flood. Ellison stated in his appeal, “I believe that the bridge report that FEMA is basing their denial on is being given too much weight and enough consideration is not being given to the fact that heavy poultry, logging, and farm trucks used this bridge daily until May 30. I respectfully request that FEMA reconsider it’s decision and fund this bridge replacement.”
Ellison also pointed out in the appeal that just because the state had not received a report of repairs to the bridge between the 2012 report and the flash flood, did not mean the repairs were not completed and that “road crews routinely examine bridges when on grading routes and any bridge considered dangerous to our citizens are either repaired or closed.”
After Ellison’s appeal, FEMA released a report stating, “FEMA has determined that the bridge maintained its original function and capacity prior to the event. There were no emergency closures nor were any weight restrictions imposed resulting from the AHTD report.”
The new 24-feet wide by 32-feet long bridge, engineered by Vaughn Engineering, was completed in March 2014 and was constructed by Silco Construction, Inc. from Scott County who had submitted the lowest bid of $139,775. The demolition, channel re-direction work, bank restoration and elevated bridge approaches were completed by the Polk County Road Department.
Among the most notable improvements is the significantly higher elevation of the new bridge. It is constructed of steel girders and concrete and also features guard rails and 4-wing walls. The County acquired, placed and compacted approximately 800 cubic yards of fill from a local source to elevate the new approaches and then they were topped off with approximately 100 cubic yards of road base.
“I am very proud of our new bridge and I know the affected citizens who have been inconvenienced are too,” said Ellison. “This is a very strong and modern bridge and because it is of sufficient design, it will not be required to have a posted load limit.”
Judge Ellison is unsure how much funding will be received to recoup some of the cost but the report stated, “FEMA will restore the basic eligibility of the bridge and determine eligible costs.”
“I believe that it was an injustice to have the funding for this project denied by FEMA because it did meet the criteria. Sometimes rural counties get short changed for obvious reasons. I believed it was my duty to put forth every effort possible to change their decision,” said Ellison.