The Cost of Keeping Levees Afloat

JACKSONPORT, AR (KAIT) - Today the waters of the White River sit calmly within it's banks, but enough rainfall can change that in the blink of an eye.

"There were times that we were sweating bullets, but the levee held and did what it was supposed to do."

Jackson County Emergency Management Director Don Ivey reflects back to earlier this spring when the White River rose, cresting more than eight feet above flood stage.

You probably recall an area along the levee where water was seeping out, which caused some great concern for residents in Jacksonport.  While the wall did hold this time, the events in March did bring attention to the importance of the levee system.

"This woke our eyes up, and we are really starting to look at the levees and what we need to do with them," said ivey.

But maintaining several miles of levee isn't a task that comes cheap.  In fact, they must be recertified by FEMA in a couple of years, at a price more than most counties can afford.

"It could be as high as 150 to 200 thousand. These levee districts don't have this. There's no way. They are barely getting by on what they've got," said County Judge Kerry Tharpe.

Tor that reason he is working with other counties on a way to approach the state with a request for legislation that would help fund levee maintenance.

"We're hoping somewhere along the way, the state and federal level will look at the levee boards and levee districts, and say, we're going to try and find you some money and help out," said Tharpe.

Because when it comes to the safety of residents in any county, maitenance could mean the cost of life and valuables in the event of another major flood.

"That's the key part is preventative maintenance. If you've got the funds to do that, then maybe you'll be able to save yourself or your county," said Tharpe.

He and five other county judges in Region Eight will be traveling to Little Rock next Tuesday to discuss possibilities with the state.

However, it could still be some time before any legislation could be pushed forward.

We're told some options that might be brought up would be the availability of grants to smaller, strapped-for-cash counties, and also the possibility of training locals to work on the levees.

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