BY MELANIE BUCK –
Two county roads will remain closed for a bit longer as county road crews work diligently to repair the damage done by ‘Goliath’, the storm that brought tornadoes, torrential rains, flooding, and even death across the nation. More than $189,000 in damages have been assessed in the county so far and Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison said the actual damages will far exceed that number. Judge Ellison has released details of the known damages in the county from the floods and his plans and timeline on the repairs.
“We received 30 plus inches of rain in the last six weeks of the year,” explained Ellison. “Even first class roads can’t handle the events we’ve had over the last few weeks.” Ellison went on to explain that they were just getting all the damages repaired from the May 2015 flood event when another happened. That event cost the county a total of $209,000 and they are still waiting on FEMA to pay out their part, 75%, which comes to $156,000. State disaster aid is 12.5% and is paid a few weeks after federal aid comes through. Ellison said the process is long and taxing but as long as the county is eligible, his staff will work to get what funding the county has coming. “We can’t afford to wait on them to pay before we fix the damages. We have to fix the damages now and hope they pay us later,” said Ellison.
And that’s just what he plans to do with the damages done by Goliath. “We’ve already done many of the repairs and we will go ahead with the rest to get these roads open as quickly as we can,” he said. Not only has the area’s recent rains damaged roads and bridges, the Courthouse has taken on water during the events. The last two flood events have produced water in the basement of the Courthouse that Ellison believes is filtering through the concrete walls because of a temporary high water table. “Hopefully, if we go through a period of dry weather, this will fix itself, because the remedies for leaking basements are very complicated, expensive, and rarely successful,” Judge Ellison explained.
Most of the roads damaged by the floodwaters are now opened, however, two damaged areas had no quick fix. The bridge that seemed to receive the most damage in the county was the old iron bridge that spans across the Mountain Fork River on County Road 38. A ramp at the end of the bridge floated up and came loose and will be repaired using a steel I-beam and a new deck. Another section of deck on the bridge will also be removed and the I-beam will be reworked, and a new deck and catwalk will be installed. “A good bit of guard rail and bracing will need to be replaced or repaired,” said Ellison. He expects the bridge to be out of service for about six weeks. On Polk 274, a new 19-foot bridge will have to be built. New concrete footings, abutments, and wing walls will be constructed before using pre-cast concrete panels for a deck.
Ellison said a written disaster declaration has been submitted to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and with the Governor’s declaration, the county should be eligible for a small amount of state help. If the President concurs with the declaration, federal help should be available as well. However, when that help arrives is another question.
In fact, as of yet, the ‘flood event’ is still ongoing and has ‘closed’ due to rivers that continue to crest. Ellison explained that federal aid can’t be applied for until the event is ‘closed’ and then there is only a five day window to apply. “There are a lot of regulations and hoops to jump through and many things just aren’t covered. They [FEMA] pay 75% of their approved items. Money spent today is money I keep in reserve for these kinds of emergencies,” Ellison said. If approved, Ellison believes Polk County will be eligible for 75% of $189,000 worth of damages from FEMA and 12.5% from the state, but he said the actual damage total is much more than that.
He added that many of the improvements made to the county’s road system over the last few years have held up well to the floods. “The improvements to our road and bridge system have handled these events very well and as we go on through future planned projects, there will be less and less ‘usual spots’ that get severely damaged.”