Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a task force to study Arkansas levee systems and his plan to spend $10 million for some of the most needed repairs.
The needs were illustrated by recent Arkansas River flooding. He noted 2017 legislation had provided for increased reporting on levee systems by the boards that are supposed to maintain and finance them. Only 20 of 93 levee systems complied, mostly because most no longer have functioning boards.
Hutchinson said he’d draw, with legislative concurrence, on reserve money — seemingly inexhaustible it would seem given recent arts and other handouts — to do some immediate work. It’s a big philosophical step for the state to take responsibility for levee repair, given that they were built by improvement districts with taxes on protected property owners whose land value is increased by protection. Now the whole state is going to help. After Sen. Jason Rapert talked about how at least one levee board had gotten a state grant, Hutchinson volunteered that this wasn’t strictly a state responsibility, but a “balance.” He said some boards didn’t want to tax themselves. He said the state might increase its contribution but the future might include a matching program of local money and state money.
The 2017 legislation tried to “reinvigorate” levee boards. Now stronger action is needed, he said.
The governor’s news release:
Earlier this month, the state experienced record flooding that impacted a number of communities along the Arkansas River, causing extensive damage. Several levees were impacted, as a result, including the breach of the Holla Bend Levee in Yell County. For those reasons, Governor Asa Hutchinson today issued Executive Order 19-10 to create the Arkansas Levee Task Force to study and analyze the current conditions of the state’s levees.Members of the Task Force will also identify sources and requirements for funding the construction, repair, and maintenance of the levees; study prospective monitoring and reporting systems for maintenance of the levees; and review adequacy of current laws and organizational structure of the levee system and levee district boards.In addition, the Governor announced he will be requesting legislative approval for $10 million to be made available through the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, in consultation with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, for immediate levee repair.“The Flood of 2019 revealed the many weaknesses in our state’s system of levees and points to the urgent need to formulate a plan to coordinate inspection and maintenance in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers and the local levee boards,” said Governor Hutchinson. “We can’t postpone this planning until another historic flood puts us to a test. The Arkansans who live and work along our waterways depend on our leaders to secure their safety as much as humanly possible by ensuring we incorporate the best practices and technology to fortify our levees.”The Task Force shall provide a report of its findings and make recommendations to the Governor for improved monitoring and maintenance of the state’s levee system by December 31, 2019. The Task Force may provide additional reports and recommendations to the Governor as necessary.Members of the Task Force are as follows:• Jami Cook – Chair
Secretary, Department of Public Safety• Tommy Land
Arkansas Land Commissioner• Wes Ward
Secretary, Department of Agriculture• Larry Walther
Secretary, Department of Finance and Administration• Bruce Holland
Director, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission• A.J. Gary
Director, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management• Deidre Smith
Director, Arkansas Waterways Commission• Shelby Johnson
Director, Geographic Information OfficeThe Task Force will also include at least one county judge, one county clerk, and one municipal elected official. Additional citizens, including legislators, with knowledge of the engineering, construction, funding, or oversight of levees, as well as citizens representing flood-impacted areas, shall be added, as the Governor deems necessary.