Leader Blues

Friday, January 08, 2010

TOP STORY >> County officials: Bayou Meto flooding is fact of life

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Dick Jeter community homeowners whose property flooded on Christmas Day learned this week that fixing the Bayou Meto is not going to be part of the solution to their woes.

The community is southeast of Jacksonville in an unincorporated area in the vicinity of Valentine and Wooten roads.

About 12 homes in the area were flooded as a result of the heavy rains that started on Dec. 23. Other residents have reported damage to septic tanks and vehicles, as well as pollution to their property as a result of septic tank overflows.

There may be some financial relief in the way of low-interest loans to help property owners pay for repairs. That will be up to FEMA to decide. It could take months before any help does come.

Sherman Smith, a county engineer who met at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Monday night with 40 homeowners to discuss ways to mitigate future flooding, said that cleaning out culverts and trapping beavers were feasible strategies, but that an overhaul of the bayou, a protected wetland, was not.

“The days of dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers are over because of environmental regulations,” said Smith, the director of Pulaski County Public Works Department. “The Bayou Meto has to be left natural. You can’t clean it out or channel it.”

The group was meeting with county officials to air their grievances about the floodwater that swept across their community, which is in a floodplain.

What they had to say echoed a long-standing sentiment that the county government is neglectful of the area and in doing its part to manage the floodplain where the Dick Jeter Community is located.

Several individuals at the meeting expressed frustration, saying that their repeated past requests for the county’s assistance in maintaining culverts had gone unheeded.

“We have a legitimate problem,” said Frank Hood. “I’ve been three years trying to contact peoples about the culverts. When we approach you all, we want you to help us.”

Harold Ford, another area resident, said he “gives credit where credit is due,” regarding the county’s regular mowing along roadways and in the neighborhood park. But that cleanup from illegal dumping which has clogged drainage ditches is where the community could really use the county’s help.

Barbara Richard, director of roads and bridges for the county, told the group that her department is shorthanded and that if the community would supply the labor for cleaning out the culverts, the county would haul off the trash and widen the ditches.

Most of the area residents are of retirement age.

“There are a lot of culverts in the county that are inadequate – we know that – but we don’t have enough labor to pull the trash out,” Richard said. “Someone needs to organize that.”

Justice of the Peace Robert Green offered to speak with County Judge Buddy Villines about use of county jail inmates to assist a cleanup.

“But don’t complain about inmates around your house,” Green said.

Green said a similar cleanup had been done in the McAlmont area and that flooding had not been a problem on Christmas Day.

Hood said that there are two dams that have been constructed across the Ink Bayou that may be hampering the flow of water.

He asked Smith to find out who built them and that those individuals be required to remove them or monitor them during times of heavy rains.

“Who keeps tabs on all of this?” Hood asked. “Why is it there are two dams in there, I don’t know. Somebody needs to be responsible for that, if they put a dam in there.”

Smith promised to investigate, but said after the meeting that the county has no jurisdiction on water abatement issues below the level of a 100-year flood.

If community residents want the dams removed, they would have to sue the individuals who installed them.

CULVERTS REPAIRED, BEAVERS TRAPPED

What the county should have done, did do, or didn’t do in the past may be water over the dam. However, the harm done to the Dick Jeter community as a result of the Christmas flood does now have the attention of the county public works.

Smith said this week that efforts are under way to get drainage ditches and culverts in the area up to standard so that runoff from future storms will flow as efficiently as possible as it moves southeast toward the Arkansas River.

Crews are “looking for bottlenecks and installing and enlarging culverts,” as well as securing easements from property owners in order to make improvements where needed, Smith said.

Fifteen to 20 beaver traps have been set in waterways along Republican, Southeastern and Valentine roads, but no beavers have yet been caught because the water is still too high, said Richard, whose office dedicates three workers to trapping beavers in unincorporated areas in the county.

“They trap them first and then go in by boat and break up the dams,” Richard said.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR REPAIRS

Home and business owners as well as renters in areas affected by floods may be eligible for federal assistance in the way of low-interest loans.

The first step will be assessments beginning next week in all counties in Arkansas that have been declared disaster areas.

Smith said that FEMA representatives will include the Dick Jeter community among areas assessed in Pulaski County. That process will take about a week.

Recommendations for areas to qualify for either individual assistance, as well as public assistance (for roads, bridges, debris clean-up), will then be forwarded to the governor for approval.

The ultimate decision-maker will be the president.

“That could take a week or several weeks,” said Kim Pease, a public information officer for FEMA.

The money funding individual-assistance loans will come from the national Small Business Administration’s disaster-loan program.

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.

Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Businesses of any size and private, nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets.

The Small Business Administration can also lend additional funds to homeowners and businesses to help with the cost of making improvements that protect against, prevent or minimize the same type of disaster damage from occurring in the future.

WHAT IS A HUNDRED-YEAR FLOOD?

Lifelong residents of the Dick Jeter community say the Christmas flood was the worst in their memories.

Some thought for sure it had to be a 100-year flood.

Mary Nash, whose house filled with water in the flood, said, “It has never been like this.” She will be 72 this year.

“That doesn’t make it a 100-year flood,” Smith said. “What occurred was probably a 65- or 70-year flood.”

Flood designations are not only critical to insurance rates, but in determining what kind of disaster assistance an individual or community may qualify for.

A 100-year flood is one that has the probability of occurring every 100 years.

In FEMA’s book, that is quantified in feet that the floodwater is anticipated to rise in a specific geographic area, called a base water elevation. That is calculated using computer modeling and data from hydrologic studies of flow rates in waterways in specific geographic areas.

“Those studies cost $10,000 per mile,” Smith said.

In the case of the Dick Jeter community, the 100-year base flood elevation is 243 feet above sea level.

Smith says that surveyors in the area during the Christmas flood found the floodwater peaked just below that.

“The highest point shot out there was 241.6 feet,” Smith said.