Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >FLOOD CONTROL

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

The drainage problems that have plagued Cabot for years are not completely under control, but Mayor Eddie Joe Williams says heavy rain doesn’t cause the trouble it once did.

“The places that historically flooded badly are not too bad anymore,” Williams said.

Even though the Bayou Meto south of Jacksonville flooded last week well beyond its banks, the city had very few problems.

“We’ve worked hard to control drainage and flooding over the past couple of years,” said Jay Whisker, the city’s administrator.

Over the past three years the city has spent more than $100,000 on projects.

“We also make sure we clean out at least one big ditch a year,” Whisker said.

In the past two years, the city has cleared the ditch that runs from North First Street to Loop Road and Rocky Branch Creek
south of Sutherland’s.

“Not only do those areas look better, but it really makes a difference during big rain events,” Whisker said.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hill-man said her office did not receive a single call about flooding during the recent rains. “We survived pretty well,” she said.

Like Jacksonville, Sherwood has worked hard over recent years to try to fix areas that frequently flood and has spent about $100,000 over the past two years on flood and drainage projects.

In Ward, some of the streets filled with water during the heavy rain, but it reportedly drained away quickly. Deborah Staley, assistant to Mayor Art Brooke, said no one had reported any flooding in homes.

Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson also said the heavy rain did not cause any major flooding problems.

Last week, the ends of the culverts the Cabot Street Department installed so Locust Street could be widened were undermined by the runoff and washed out of the ground. But the mayor said the situation was not quite as bad as it appeared.

The city intends to overlay the street and add a center turn lane. To accommodate the additional width, the culverts that replaced the bridge are 10 feet wider than the existing pavement. The ends of the culverts that were not compacted from traffic were the ones that washed out, the mayor said.

Runoff also remains a problem on Mary Ann Circle behind Southside Elementary. Williams recalled that when he was on the council, he was one of the leaders in the effort to reroute water around the fire station on Hwy. 321 that flooded yards in that area. But changing the direction of the runoff did not eliminate the problem.

In places, driveway culverts are above the ditches, he said. In others, the culverts get smaller as the water runs down instead of larger as they need to be.

When Williams took office in January 2007, the city books were out of balance and there was little money to pay the bills. To correct the problem, he cut the city staff and told department heads they could not make any major purchases.

The city did have about $2 million in bond money, and an additional $20,000 a month revenue from the special census to be used for street improvements, but instead of starting overlay or widening projects, city street department employees were put to work cleaning ditches and jacking open culverts that were so badly bent that water couldn’t flow through them.

Among the workers who were laid off were the city engineer, the head of public works (who was also an engineer) and a computer-aided draftsman.

Williams said after the first deluge about six months into his first year, that all the experts he had laid off had not been able to do as much for the drainage problem as one street department employee who used a transit to shoot the grades in the ditches so that they could be dug out and make the water flow.

Leader staff writer Rick Kron also contributed to this report.