December 29, 2010 Edition

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Levee tax on acreage in Running
Water District to pay for upkeep

Danny Ellis (from left) and Don Cox of Pocahontas, both Running Water Levee District commissioners, and Randolph County Judge David Jansen inspect work being done this past spring to repair the levee along the south side of Black River near Pocahontas. Although the levee is in Randolph County, it protects over 44,000 acres in Lawrence County from the floodwaters of Black River. Andrew Jones of Minturn is also a commissioner for the district.
TD Photo ~ John Bland
Dalton Sullivan
Star Herald Staff

(Note: the following article is reprinted with permission from the Pocahontas Star Herald.)

Following public meetings held by the Running Water Levee District on Dec. 15 in Pocahontas and Walnut Ridge, Randolph County Judge David Jansen and Lawrence County Judge Alex Latham have signed orders instituting a flat tax of 50 cents per acre on all lands in the Running Water Levee District for the purpose of maintenance, repair and operation.

The tax would go into effect in 2011, after proper assessments in each county are completed.

The Running Water Levee District covers just over 44,000 acres in Lawrence County and nearly 20,000 acres in Randolph County based on maps drawn by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1938.

At Wednesday morning's public meeting in Pocahontas, no landowner was present to speak in support or against the proposed tax. Later that afternoon at the Lawrence County Courthouse in Walnut Ridge, only one landowner was at the meeting, and he spoke in favor of the flat tax, saying, "I'll be happy to pay 50 cents an acre if it will keep the Black River out of my fields."

Commissioners Don Cox and Danny Ellis, both of Pocahontas, and Andrew Jones of Minturn said money raised from the tax would be used for maintenance purposes only. Jones said this was the only way the commission will be able to maintain the levee.

The 50 cents an acre tax is a bargain compared to what landowners pay to the Big Running Water Drainage District and the Little Running Water Drainage District. On average landowners pay $4 per acre to the Big Running Water Drainage District and $3.25 per acre to the Little Running Water Drainage District.

When the original levee was built in 1927, it ran on the south side of Black River from near where the Current River dumps into Black River near where Burger King now stands. In 1932 the Corps of Engineers abandoned management of the levee and turned it over to the newly formed levee district, which itself disbanded in the 1960s due to lack of funds. With no one or organization to watch over the levee, anyone was free to help themselves to the mounds of dirt that made up the levee, and that is precisely what they did.

During the floods in March of 2008, rushing river water pushed through the 80-year old levee in three places, sending water from the Black and Current Rivers rushing across Randolph County farmland. The water eventually forced the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to close Hwy. 67, just north of the Randolph-Lawrence County line because of high water. The water eventually emptied back into the Black River near Portia in Lawrence County.

Not long after the floods, discussion raged as to who was actually responsible for maintenance of the levee. Randolph County took care of, and in some places, has actually improved the levee, prior to the decision to reinstate the Running Water Levee District, which as mentioned, had disbanded a generation earlier.

Since the initial meeting of the district in September of 2009, with the help of the Randolph County Road Department and the State Forestry Department, work has begun on the massive job of clearing the vegetation on the over eight-mile long levee. Thus far, several miles of the levee along Pace Road in east Pocahontas have been cleared. Gone are all the trees, all the brush, everything that was growing obscuring the levee. Now the barren fortress looks like what a levee should look like.

Because the levee was built with federal dollars, it has been "grandfathered" in and any improvements only have to meet the original specifications. This will be an advantage for the levee district. If it did not have that certification, it would have to be restored to modern day specifications, which are more stringent and would be more expensive to build.

In all, the levee protects 65,000 acres which lie in the Black River flood plain, most of which is in Lawrence County. The three-member committee has made great strides in the past year, having spent a lot of time walking the levee, taking notes and pictures, studying maps, trying to get a feel for what the levee looked like, and where exactly it was when it was built in 1927.

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