February 11, 2009 Edition

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JPs discuss recent storm

Leslie Ginn
Staff Writer

David Burnette, Entergy's customer service manager for Lawrence County, updated the Lawrence County Quorum Court Monday on recent efforts to restore power locally.

"This has been the largest, greatest natural disaster we've probably ever faced," he said.

Entergy had three staging areas Walnut Ridge, Marmaduke and Corning to park trucks, feed and house workers.

A total of 600 men were brought into Walnut Ridge, 600 in Marmaduke and 350 in Corning. Of the 1,550 workers amassed, 1,000 were linemen, 250 support personnel and 300 tree trimmers.

Workers labored 16 hours each day during the restoration effort. All but 25 of the workers were released on Monday to return home.

"The logistics were phenomenal," Burnette said. "I feel as if we've almost rebuilt our entire system."

The restoration plan first focused on repairing protection, life/health, and water/sewer services, such as the hospital, 911 and police. The next priority was the areas that would affect the largest amount of people, including large neighborhoods and industrial customers to help people return to work.

Now, the job continues to restore power to customers further out on individual lines. Burnette said that no workers were hurt during restoration efforts.

"Initially it took a while to organize and rally our forces. Our approach was to help the greatest amount of people most quickly." Burnette explained, "There was nothing personal in our choices."

Burnette also praised local citizens for helping Entergy and the workers. He especially mentioned the hospitality offered by the airport were 53 sleep pod units were located and the old Walnut Ridge Wal-Mart parking lot where trucks were parked.

"We had absolutely wonderful community support!" said Burnette.

Judge Alex Latham said, "This has been a reality check for all of us."

According to the road department, all the streets, although not perfectly cleared, are now open. The county will not be able to pick up limbs from the side of the road in rural areas.

"The biggest problem the road crew faced was maneuvering around the downed electric lines," Latham said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, had an official federal declaration signed on Friday at 4 p.m. regarding the disaster caused by the ice storm. FEMA will reimburse some of the cost for county and city cleanup efforts.

"FEMA officials have been involved, but still need to assess the full extent of the damage," said Latham. "There is not going to be any great personal windfall from FEMA for anyone, but they will help recover some of the expense involved in debris removal."

Lawrence County Sheriff Dan Ellison reported that reinforced police coverage curbed theft in the area. The ice storm also caused the collapse of the police tower that served this county, but all the equipment associated with the tower remained unharmed. The sheriff, road, and county judge departments all worked off the old tower.

The tower will not be able to be rebuilt to meet requirements. A new steel 330 foot tall tower will cost approximately $70,000 and take six weeks to build. Once built, there would be no dead spots in the entire county. Insurance and prospects of rental space on the tower could help fund the construction.

In other business:

  • travel pay was discussed. The rate of 39 cents per mile was approved to remain the same. It was also decided that the travel to and from Walnut Ridge banks and the post office from the courthouse would not be reimbursed.

  • it was reported that regulations regarding overtime for county employees is being reviewed.

  • Walnut Ridge Rural Fire Department Board appointments were made by Latham. The following were appointed to a three-year term: Perry Manus, Warren Fender and Roy Marshal. Delbert Gall and Craig Stone were appointed to two-year terms.

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