The newly created Levee Task Force won’t have as much to address in the Fort Smith region as in other parts of the state, one task force member from the area says.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced his appointments to the Arkansas Levee Task Force, which was created in June through Executive Order 19-10 to study and analyze the conditions of the state’s levees following the 500-year Arkansas River flood. Arkansas Natural Resources Director Bruce Holland, the former state senator of District 9 — which covers many areas that touch the river in Sebastian and Crawford counties — said members of the levee boards in the two counties have “done a great job” maintaining federal standards for their levees.
“The proof is that the levees held back the flood,” Holland said.
The Arkansas levee system is overseen by members of local levee boards throughout the state whose members are in charge of certifying and appropriating funds for the levees in their jurisdictions. Not all of the levee boards throughout the state properly maintain federal standards for levees within their jurisdictions, said Holland.
Hutchinson in the creation of the Task Force announced he would request approval for $10 million to be made available through the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management “for immediate levee repair” throughout the state.
“If they maintain federal standards, they’re usually able to re-utilize federal money to rebuild them. What a lot of the state gets into is, some of the levees are not properly maintained, and they lose their certifications. When they lose their certifications and are washed away, they’re left to the levee district to try to come up with the funds to rebuild,” Holland said.
The Crawford County levee system, which was certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2009, was tested by an Arkansas River that on June 1 rose 40.79 feet with a current of 570,000 cubic feet per second at the Van Buren gauge. County Judge Dennis Gilstrap said a section of the levee system near Yoestown Bottoms, which on May 28 slid with the swollen river, will need to be recertified. Crawford County Emergency Management Director Brad Thomas said the river would have flooded 300 homes and businesses if the levee near Yoestown Bottoms had breached.
Thomas said he was “thrilled” about Executive Order 19-10 and hoped it would direct some funding and assistance to Crawford County levee repair and recertification efforts.
Communities along other parts of the Arkansas River weren’t as fortunate — Holla Bend in Yell County flooded after the river on May 31 breached a levee in the area.
“This historical flood really tested everything along the Arkansas River, the whole system,” Holland said.
While Holland spoke highly of how the Sebastian and Crawford county levees performed during the flood, he said the Levee Task Force still plans to look at their conditions following the flood. He said the levees despite how they performed during the flood “weren’t really designed to be a dam,” but rather control floodwaters for a short time.
On a state level, Holland hopes levees will receive more permanent attention.
“Every time we have disastrous floods, there’s a lot of attention given to the levee system. The county judges and everyone are encouraged to work with the levee boards and getting the levees up to standards,” he said. “It’s kind of like a leaking roof — when it’s not raining, nobody’s concerned about it. It gets a lot of attention for a short period of time, and then it falls by the wayside.”