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Watershed project engineers named for Pine Bluff

by I.C. Murrell | May 23, 2023 at 3:56 a.m.
From left, Charley Williams, a watershed consultant, and Kelley Eubanks of Kee Concrete & Construction listen to a news conference by the Arkansas Black Mayors Association on the selection of watershed engineers at the federal courtyard in Little Rock on Monday. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

LITTLE ROCK -- A joint venture between EJES Inc. of Dallas and FTN Associates of Little Rock will lead the engineering of nine watershed projects in Pine Bluff.

The companies were among seven firms the Arkansas Black Mayors Association announced at the federal courtyard to lead community outreach and development of plans for watershed improvements in 14 areas of the state -- what the ABMA described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild infrastructure.

ABMA describes the project plans as a critical step toward addressing flooding many communities face in Arkansas. A $95.9 million investment into 19 projects in total was announced in April 2022, when Terry Cosby, chief of the U.S Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, visited the state. The conservation service works with the ABMA, East Arkansas Enterprise Community and conservation districts, among others, on the projects.

The projects include rehabilitating dams, flood prevention and watershed restoration, according to the USDA. They are also part of the Biden administration's implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided $918 million to the conversation service to allocate, $420 million of which will aid 132 infrastructure projects in 31 states.

Other watersheds to be addressed are located in Altheimer, Dumas, Eudora, Turrell and Wilmot in southeast Arkansas; Forrest City, Haynes, Helena-West Helena, Hughes, Lake View, Madison, Marianna and Marvell in eastern Arkansas; Camden, El Dorado, Lewisville and Stamps in southern Arkansas. EJES and FTN will also be responsible for the projects in Stamps and Lewisville.

Michael Baker International Inc. will engineer projects in Dumas, Turrell and Camden. Headway Environmental will lead projects in Eudora and Wilmot.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said she is still working with the ABMA on the watershed projects, three months after she and the mayors of Camden, Forrest City, Helena-West Helena and Marianna sent a letter to the association asking to arrange contracts for their own projects. The requests came with the goal of having plans completed by the end of President Biden's term in 2024, to not risk losing federal funding.

"Pine Bluff was asking to spearhead or manage its own projects because we have the capacity to do that," said Washington, who did not attend the announcement. "They were hiring attorneys to manage, and Pine Bluff has the capacity to manage the project. We wanted to do that if possible. We were one of the fully funded projects whereas most of them are not fully funded."

Nine of the watersheds up for improvement are located in Pine Bluff: Bayou Bartholomew Headwaters, Caney Creek-Caney Bayou, Caney Creek-Arkansas River, Plum Bayou-Arkansas River, Cousart Bayou Headwaters-Lake Alice Watershed, Imbeau Bayou, Nevins Creek, Upper Deep Bayou and Boggy Bayou-Bayou Bartholomew. Philip Massirer of FTN said the projects cover all of downtown Pine Bluff and highly developed surrounding areas.

"The area that they cover, that was already defined before we got involved," Massirer said. "We just took that information, looked at what information was already there and developed a proposal from there."

Engineers are looking for more information from community members on flooding issues they have experienced, Massirer said. So far, one public meeting regarding the improvements has been scheduled for 6 p.m. May 31 at Central High School in Helena-West Helena. Other meetings are to be announced later.

"Each team in this planning phase is looking at, 'what are some solutions we can do to reduce that flooding?'" Massirer said. "The details will be hashed out in the design phase, but we've got to identify those solutions, identify different alternatives and make sure they're not going to cause negative impacts, either environmentally or socioeconomically, and then come up with preferred alternatives. All of that is done with local input along the way."

The focus of the projects in Pine Bluff will be flooding coming from local sources, Massirer said, but any continual problems from the Arkansas River will be addressed. Pine Bluff experienced heavy flooding due to elevated levels of the river from heavy rainfall during the late spring of 2019.

"Some of the solutions might be outside the scope of this program, but if that's what's causing the flooding, that needs to be addressed. We can identify that," Massirer said.

Kee Concrete and Construction will engineer the designs for the Little Bayou Meto Watershed in Altheimer and for the Long Lake Bayou-Little Bee Bayou Watershed in Helena-West Helena. A preliminary feasibility study was conducted prior to the naming of the engineers, and Kee's role is to use an NRCS-compliant plan that also identifies other potential sources of flooding, managing partner Kelley Eubanks said.

"It produces alternatives to addressing those flooding issues, and it gives us an opportunity to collaborate with the local community for addressing flooding."

Flooding has been an ongoing problem in Altheimer for years, but the 2019 Arkansas River flood helped community leaders come together to find solutions, said Zola Hudson, the city's mayor.

"It really happened so fast, that we were amazed that everything came into play," Hudson said.

More information on the projects is available at

  photo  Karen McCurdy, senior vice president of the environmental division of Crafton Tull, announces engineering firms that will work on watershed projects in Pine Bluff and other locations in Arkansas during a news conference Monday at the federal courtyard in Little Rock. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

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