January 04, 2012 EditionAlso in this issue...
Flooding, interest in
Walnut Ridge residents Alan Smith (left) and Blaine Smith race against flood waters in Portia as they help carry items from a friend's home after heavy rainfall in April. The rainfall, followed by levee breaks, caused extensive flooding, resulting in the county being declared a federal disaster area. The flooding was voted as one of two top stories in the county for 2011.
TD Photo ~ Shantelle Prater
The Times Dispatch staff's voting for the top stories of 2011 ended with a tie for the number one spot. The extensive flooding that took place in the spring and the increasing interest in the peanut industry in Lawrence County topped the list.
Heavy rains flooded large portions of Lawrence County in April, followed by disastrous levy breaks that flooded additional areas.
Residents throughout the county were affected as roads and highways were closed, schools dismissed, businesses were damaged and homes were destroyed.
A shelter was established in Walnut Ridge for those who had to evacuate their homes. In mid-May, FEMA declared Lawrence County a federal disaster area, which helped with some of the recovery efforts.
Peanut company representatives made several visits to the county throughout the year, and an increased number of acres were planted for the second year of crop production.
The state's first peanut production meeting was held in Walnut Ridge in March, and a field day was held in September on the Jackson farm, located near the Lawrence/Randolph county line.
According to the University of Arkansas Extension Service, even more acres are expected to be planted in 2012 after peanuts brought higher than expected delivery prices in 2011. With increased acreage, there is a possibility of the establishment of a buying point for peanuts in the area.
The remainder of the top 10 stories for 2011 are as follows:
Number 3 - The Northeast Arkansas Public Water Authority's treatment plant was completed, which allowed the authority to begin providing water to much of Lawrence County. A grand opening, held Dec. 9, was attended by many including Gov. Mike Beebe.
Number 4 - In a freak accident on Sept. 13 a pickup truck that was out of control drove into the front of the Walnut Ridge Police Department's building. The driver was killed, and an officer inside the building was injured. Because of the extensive damage to the building, the city subsequently purchased the former Smelser Plumbing building and renovated it into a new police complex.
Number 5 - A Beatles at the Ridge festival to mark the unveiling of a sculpture commemorating The Beatles's visit to the Walnut Ridge Airport in 1964 was held in September. The event featured The Liverpool Legends of Branson and the sculpture was unveiled by Louise Harrison, sister of George Harrison. Despite rainy weather, a good crowd was on hand for the event.
Number 6 - The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department announced in February that the weight limit for the Black River Bridge at Black Rock would be lowered from the standard 40 tons to 33 tons. A public meeting was held in March with many voicing concerns about the impact of the change, but after an independent consultant analysis, it was determined the new weight limit would remain in effect.
Number 7 - Both the Lawrence County School District and Hoxie School District began major construction projects in 2011. A $4.6 million science, arts and physical education complex is underway on the Walnut Ridge campus. In Hoxie, ground has been broken for a $5 million multi-purpose facility.
Number 8 - The U.S. Postal Service announced possible changes at several post offices in the county. The Alicia Post Office was closed, and the Hoxie Post Office was changed to a postal station. Still facing possible closure are Minturn, Sedgwick, O'Kean, Powhatan and Saffell. In December it was announced that no more action would be taken until May of 2012 to give time for possible legislation. The Postal Service is continuing to hold meetings regarding possible closures.
Number 9 - Efforts by the Lawrence County Tourism Committee to develop tourist attractions have spurred some economic development in downtown Walnut Ridge and drawn media attention to the community. After unveiling Danny West's sculpture of The Beatles, which is now located in Beatles Park on Abbey Road, the committee immediately began work on the next attraction, a guitar walk to honor the rock and roll and rockabilly legends who played along Highway 67 in the 1950s and '60s.
Number 10 - A heat wave in early August resulted in the county being put under a heat warning as the actual high temperature averaged around the 100 degree mark, while the heat index was as high as 114. Some places in the state broke records, such as Little Rock, which recorded an actual temperate of 114 degrees on Aug. 3.
Other stories of interest that finished outside the top 10 were: the hiring of L.J. Bryant as economic development director for the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, the opening of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives facility in Powhatan, the proposed monument to commemorate the desegregation of Hoxie School, the approval of a tax to repair damage to the Running Water levee and the announcement of the upcoming retirement of Williams Baptist College President Dr. Jerol Swaim.
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