March 18, 2009 Edition

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Council discusses debris
cleanup, plans for future
emergencies in WR

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

In the aftermath of the worst ice storm the city has experienced in many years, the Walnut Ridge City Council discussed cleaning up debris still piled high beside city streets, the upcoming Spring Cleanup and ways to be better prepared for the next natural disaster or emergency, during their March meeting.

Street Superintendent Jim Poindexter told the council he had toured the city with FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, and they estimated there are 42,650 cubic feet of debris to be removed citywide.

"After 31 days of hauling, the street department has removed 10,301 cubic feet," Poindexter said. "We started on the southeast section of town and are now working on the northeast section along Robin Lane. Tomorrow we'll be working on Jay Street so farmers can start working on their fields.

"The John Deere tractor from Greenway has been a tremendous help." Mayor Rogers reminded the council that residents can still haul their brush and limbs to Miller Drive.

Alderman Spencer Ponder told the council he felt the city should hire contractors to do the cleanup. "Our street department is to be commended for the great job they have done. They are working as hard as they can, but they need help. We still have 75 percent of the city to clean up, so it will still take a considerable amount of time before the job can be finished without outside help."

Alderwoman Paula Haskins reminded the council that the rainy season is coming and the city's ditches are full of trash, which will cause serious drainage problems and make great breeding grounds for mosquitoes, as well as harbors for snakes.

The council agreed to look into hiring an outside source to help get the cleanup finished in a timely manner. They plan to take action as soon as possible.

"FEMA will reimburse the city for 75 percent of the cost for debris removal, the county will pay 12-and-a-half percent and the city will be responsible for the remaining 12-and-a-half percent," Mayor Rogers said.

The city will have its Spring Cleanup as usual from April 13-25, following the county's cleanup, which is held the first week in April, Mayor Rogers said.

Aldermen discussed purchasing at least one new generator now and hopefully another one later in the year to prepare the town for future emergencies.

"We need a generator for our administration building so it can function as an information center and one to place at the Walnut Ridge Community Center, which can again be used as a shelter when we need one," Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin told the council. "We could move the 3-phase, 75- KW generator, which is now located at fire station number three, to the community center. The Walnut Ridge High School Agri class has offered to build us a building to house the generator."

Wallin said he would pay the expense of moving the large generator to its new location, and the city will need to hire an electrician to unhook it from the fire station and reconnect it at the community center.

"A new 20-KW generator could be installed at the city's administration building if the council votes to buy one now. Another one would need to be purchased later in the year to replace the one at the number three fire station. The two generators would cost close to $8,200 each," Wallin said.

He told the council they could purchase one now and possibly finance it if money was tight. The payments would be $706.69 if it was financed for one year and $361.83 if financed for two years.

The council voted to check into the cost of moving the 75-KW generator and the tornado siren from the number three fire station to the Walnut Ridge Community Center.

"We'd like to move the tornado siren along with the generator so the school can hear it better. The closer to the school the siren is, the more protected our kids are, and the generator will be a backup source to make sure the siren would sound even if the town had no electricity," Wallin said. "The siren at Regions Bank covers three-fourths a mile, which the entire town would be able to hear."

Wallin also told the council that the city has not received a grant submitted for five new tornado sirens, and the grant may have to be resubmitted. The new sirens the city wants will run off batteries.

"Even our newest sirens are outdated now," said Fire Chief Alan Haskins. "If a storm knocked out our power before a tornado actually hit, the sirens we have would not work."

The council voted to purchase one new 20-KW generator for the administration building now. They hope to buy a second one for the fire station on East Main later in the year.

In other business, the council:

  • was informed that the person who wanted to rent the building from Smelser Plumbing has changed his mind. Smelser will continue to make payments on his reuse loan.

  • discussed the possibility of electing council members by alternating half of the council's seats every two years in an effort to insure the city is never left without at least four members who are experienced and can help new councilmen when they are elected. The city attorney will check into the legal aspects of changing the election method for council members.

  • learned that the Intermodal Authority is now officially formed. Milton Smith, Terry Belcher and Paul Doty will represent the city on the board.

  • welcomed Shirley Guy as the mayor's new administrative assistant following the retirement of Pat McEntire.

  • was told by the mayor that the city had received a check from the sale of the speculative building.

  • was addressed by Travis McCoy and Kevin Gilmore of Paragould who are with Neel Schaffer, a company that monitors debris cleanup and paperwork, etc., to insure cities get their correct FEMA reimbursement. They offered their services to the city should the city need them. FEMA reimburses them for their costs.

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