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State puts $500,000 into twister cleanup for Pulaski County

by Emily Walkenhorst | May 24, 2014 at 3:47 a.m.

Gov. Mike Beebe announced $500,000 in state aid on Friday to help with cleanup from the April 27 tornado that cut through western Pulaski County, which is ineligible for disaster funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A news release said $350,000 will come from the governor's Emergency Fund and $150,000 from the General Improvement Fund.

Pulaski County officials said the money will expand the number of dumpsters placed off public roads and allow the county to place unrecyclable materials in landfills, but officials said the funds still fall far short of what the county needs to clean up.

The latest cost estimate for removing all debris was $3.5 million, but Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines said the county could not spend that amount and that not all of the thousands of tons of debris would get cleaned up.

"We just don't have it," Villines said of the money.

Pulaski County Public Works Director Sherman Smith agreed.

"No one has $3.5 million," Smith said.

Last week, FEMA declared 11 counties in Arkansas eligible for public assistance, which allows cities, counties and certain nonprofits to apply for federal reimbursement for repairs and cleanup. Pulaski County was not included in the declaration because it did not sustain enough damage to its public infrastructure.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the county's high population and the comparatively small size of the area hit by the storm were likely behind the denial.

"They were in this unique and unfortunate position where all the costs of debris removal fell on the county," DeCample said.

Pulaski County officials had been close to announcing the removal of seven dumpsters being used for collecting debris. Instead, thanks to the state funds, county officials sent out a news release saying the county would put out four more bins.

"We're encouraging people during the spring and summer to get it out there as quickly as they can," Smith said of the debris.

The county has been using landfill disposal funds from the Sanitation and the Road and Bridge departments to pay for cleanup, Smith said. Those departments will still assist with cleanup after Sept. 1, but $394,000 of the state money will be used for landfill-disposal fees incurred when debris can't be recycled -- that is, turned into mulch.

The other $106,000 will fund the dumpsters -- all placed off public roads -- through Sept. 1.

So far, the county has spent less than $40,000 on cleanup, Smith said, although he doesn't know the exact amount and he isn't sure how much debris has been collected.

Sanitation Department workers have been driving out to private roads to collect debris since last week and on public roads since before that. Villines expects that pickup to continue for several more months.

Jerry Thompson, 66, said he has seen sanitation trucks out in Somerset Estates, the gated subdivision where he lived off a private road, but said he hasn't seen them this week.

Thompson lived on Somerset Circle and said his piles of debris, now lined up in a ditch along the road, have yet to be picked up.

"It may be that they haven't gotten to us yet," he said.

This week, the 3,000-square foot home Thompson shared with his wife was demolished after his insurance company declared it a total loss from the EF4 storm, which killed 16 Arkansans.

The insurance company paid a contractor $17,000 to destroy the home and haul off all the debris until Thompson said there was "not one stick of debris left."

But Thompson's insurance doesn't cover the fallen trees and nonhousehold debris that still needs to be hauled off.

He's hoping the county will pick up his debris, which includes tree stumps, so that he doesn't have to pay a contractor to do so.

Previously, homes off private roads such as those in Somerset Estates were not receiving pickup service because county officials said public funds could not be used on private property. Officials have since determined that the county can do so in this case, however, because of the state emergency declaration and because residents off private roads pay sanitation fees.

Smith said not being able to fully clean up after a storm is commonplace, even outside of Pulaski County. He noted that Newton County still has fallen timber remaining from an ice storm a few years ago.

"There's just not enough money," he said.

A section on 05/24/2014

Print Headline: State puts $500,000 into twister cleanup for Pulaski County

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