Storm-debris disposal could take months

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 16, 2013 at 1:14 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Brett Koder with the Saline County Road Department uses a track hoe to pile broken trees and limbs from the area’s recent winter storm onto a pile to burn.

Effects of the area’s Christmas snow and ice storm could linger for months, regional officials said. The latest sign of the storm’s impact can be seen in the large columns of smoke from huge fires burning truckloads of broken limbs and fallen trees.

Next to the Saline County Regional Airport, near the Bryant-Bauxite border, a large plume of smoke alerted residents to the site where Saline County employees were burning tons of storm debris.

“The trucks are coming in from the county, Benton, Bryant and Bauxite, as well as from the [Arkansas] Highway Department, where their crews are trying to clean up along [Interstate] 30,” said Mark Westbrook, Saline County road supervisor, who is overseeing the burn. “We also see pickup trucks and trailers bring in loads of limbs. They are from residents and tree services.”

Dump trucks and trailers piled with debris were coming in every couple of minutes to spill out their loads near the bare ground where the fire had been placed.

“We’ve been doing this since Jan. 3, and at times we have had five or six trucks lined up to leave their load,” Westbrook said. “The rains come and slow things down, especially from the private sources, but it continues.”

The recent rainy weather has made getting to the location a messy trip that has the potential of becoming treacherous. The site is at the end of several miles of dirt road off Reynolds Road, just past the entrance to the airport at Hill Farm Road. County trucks place truckloads of gravel near the burn site, but not along the road that goes around the back side of the airport.

Even during the rain, the fire continues to burn.

“We may be putting wet wood on top,” Westbrook said, “but there is a good hot fire

underneath it all.”

The burn was approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Saline County Judge Lanny Fite met with Benton Mayor David Mattingly and others in the county to work out the plans for operating the big burn. The burn permit was issued to Saline County and is under the control of the road supervisor.

Benton has supplied road signs from Reynolds Road to the site, which will receive loads of debris from the public from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Westbrook said that if county residents are able to haul their debris to the burn site, they are welcome to do so during those hours. Otherwise, curbside pickup will take a while.

The road supervisor said the burn site is expected to operate for at least 60 days. The burn permit is for 90 days, and Westbrook said it might take that long.

Judge Fite has also predicted that the cleanup will take two to three months.

Brett Koder, a senior equipment operator with the Saline County Road Department, said he has worked on as many as 20 other emergency burns held after storms in the past. He said that while the cleanup from the Christmas storm is huge, it is far from the largest in his experience.

“By far the biggest was after the 1997 tornado,” he said. “[The cleanup] started in March, and we worked on it until August of 1998. I remember I was sent to one neighborhood and worked there for six months.”

While the county has funds for problems like the recent storm and other disasters, such as tornadoes, local government officials would like to receive help from state and federal agencies.

“I know we can get some help from the state,” Westbrook said. “The governor has already declared the county a disaster area, and we are talking with [the Federal Emergency

Management Agency] to see what kind of assistance we can get from them.”

He said the Saline County Office of Emergency Management, along with the county judge, has been in talks with FEMA, and a decision is expected soon.

In Garland County, another burn is under way for storm debris. Because the burn is closer to Hot Springs, burning hours are limited to daylight hours Monday though Thursday.

“The ADEQ permit said there could be no burning on the weekend,” said Terry Payne, public information director for the city of Hot Springs. “I was told that they spend Friday dousing the fire; then it is restarted Monday morning. For that reason, the burning permit is for 120 days.”

Payne said he has also seen lines of dump trucks carrying storm debris to the burn site at the Hot Springs Compost facility on Davidson Road near Shady Grove Road south of the city’s more populated area.

Hot Springs and Garland County are also looking for federal assistance in paying for their cleanups.

Hot Springs Village, which is in both Saline and Garland counties, will have its own burn site. The Property Owners’ Association Department of Public Works will pick up storm debris from private property after Feb. 15, and the POA asks residents to cut up and stack limbs and other debris along the road, but cautions people not to place the piles where they could become traffic or drainage problems.

Residents of the Village will not be allowed to bring their debris to the community burn site because of the regulations imposed by the state in the POA’s burn permit. For more information about the burn or to sign up for debris pickup in Hot Springs Village, call (501) 922-5528.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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