Wednesday, May 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Lonoke County a disaster area

Leader senior staff writer

Nine trackhoes are working 18-20 hours a day, building levees on top of 10 or 15 miles worth of levees at the Malone Fish Farm on Hwy. 31, according to Jim B. Malone.

The rescue plan could cost $100,000 for the trackhoe work alone, he said, but the fish in his ponds could be worth closer to $1 million or $2 million and he’d hate to see them washed down Crooked Creek and out into the bayou, he said.

“We’ve been underwater for a week or 10 days,” said Dow Brantley, who farms 8,000 acres with his father, Laudies Brantley, near Coy in Lonoke County, which has been declared a disaster area and is eligible for low-cost loans.

“It’s so wet we haven’t planted rice yet,” he said. “Haven’t even thought about it. We’ve planted corn and a few beans — we’d have been better off leaving it in the sack.

“We don’t have a plan,” he said, then approximated a plan. “We’ll plant rice till the first day of June, but it’ll take three weeks for the fields to dry out. We’ll plant a little cotton and a lot of soybeans. We’re in a position we’ve never been in before.

“I haven’t seen it this flooded,” said Brantley, who has worked the farm for about 10 years. “My dad says it’s close to the worst he’s seen in 35 or 36 years.”

Brantley said the water couldn’t drain because Indian Bayou is swollen and it can’t drain into Bayou Meto, which is also backed up and can’t drain into the Arkansas River.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Beebe declared Lonoke County a disaster area. The declaration authorizes $200,000 in individual assistance from the Governor’s Disaster Fund for flood victims.

Meanwhile, Brantley and the others are doing normal maintenance and resting, getting ready because when it dries up, every- body will get busy.

“We’ll have to farm in shifts,” Brantley said.

Roads throughout much of the county are underwater, and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said he wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until the water recedes.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. We got 14 to 16 inches of rain (in the past few days), and around 20 inches in Searcy,” he said.

Troutman said flooding was bad in the Kerr area, around Snake Island and in much of the southeast part of the county.

He said he’s had crews tearing out old collapsed or blocked culverts and replacing them with new ones to allow water to drain.

Everywhere there’s a flood plain, there’s a flood, Troutman said.

“It’s going to take a few weeks to fix all this,” he predicted.

He said Mt. Tabor Road has washed out, been cleared and washed out again.

“I know we’ve had water in some homes in Humnoke,” the judge said.

He said school buses couldn’t get to some homes south of Carlisle and that some areas had no mail service.

Brantley said that conceivably this will be the worst flooding and worst production ever on his farm.

“Every time you look, it’s raining again. This is the wettest May in 127 years,” Brantley said.

“We should be 90 percent planted on the whole farm,” he said, “and today it’s 30 percent planted.”

Speaking of himself and his neighbors, he said, “None of us have enough equipment to put this crop in the next 30 days. I’m having to call a landlord and tell him we might not get his farm planted.”

Malone said his farm ponds are probably three feet below the water level outside his reinforced levees. He raises grass carp—about 95 percent sterile—some bait fish and fish for mitigation stocking.

If the water breeches the levees?

“I’ll lose 800 acres of ponds in a matter of hours,” he said.

In the winter of 1987-88, when all the family had was a levee disc and eight employees with shovels, he lost 790 acres to flooding and contamination.

He said he came out of that flood with “a bruised eye and a big will to keep going.”

The new farm office is protected by levees of its own, he said.

The Malones are this year’s Lonoke County farm family of the year.