Friday, May 06, 2011

TOP STORY > >Residents blame landfill for floods

Leader editor

For the second time in less than two years, flooding struck southern Jacksonville this week, and the landfill is taking most of the blame again.

Many residents of the Dick Jeter community were forced from their homes, while others held their breath as the water halted at their front doors.

On Thursday, they repeatedly said flooding was not a problem until recently.

“I’m 54 years old, and never saw floods,” Janice Hobson, a lifelong Dick Jeter resident, said.

People who have lived in the area all of their lives say they had no flooding there until 2009. They believe overdevelopment along the Bayou Meto, a watershed that could once hold millions of gallons of water, is the cause. Waste Management’s Two Pine Landfill and the I-440 interchange have redirected the water toward the rural Jacksonville community, Dick Jeter residents said.

The landfill’s spokesman, David Conrad, did not respond to calls for comment. But early last year, he denied that Waste Management’s massive dump site was to blame for the floods.

“I truly don’t believe we were the cause of the increase in flooding recently,” Conrad told a meeting of the Jacksonville NAACP.

He said the 2009 flood was caused by a combination of heavy rainfall and an increase in building near the Bayou Meto. He speculated that beaver dams might have been partially responsible.

Conrad acknowledged then that the landfill’s area once held more than 3.4 million gallons of water, and some of it now has to go elsewhere.

He said the landfill dug out 43 acres of wetland to help with overflow. Dick Jeter residents are now asking if that was enough.

The west side of the landfill also flooded this week. Hwy. 67/167 had to be closed for two days between Jacksonville and Sherwood. Commuters were sent on lengthy detours. The highway recently underwent a multimillion-dollar construc tion project that made it six lanes. The new asphalt may have been damaged.

Arkansas Rice Depot, the Red Cross and Salvation Army, all Little Rock-based charities, distributed food and water in Dick Jeter on Thursday.

Members of the Valentine/Wooten Awareness Council gathered Thursday at Ms. Toni’s Barber and Style Shop, which served as a headquarters for the charities, on Valentine Road.

Hobson, the lifetime resident, described the Dick Jeter Community as “very tight-knit that’s like family.” She worries flooding will become routine if state officials don’t do something.

“We’re looking for the governor to take care of this and reimburse us,” Hobson said.

The area was hit again 18 months after the last flood, just as they were beginning to recover. She said repairing flood damage is costly and tedious.

Hobson, though, is one of the lucky ones. The water began to recede centimeters from flooding into her home.

There were many people who weren’t as fortunate. Hobson said many residents haven’t left their homes despite several inches of water inside. Floodwater poses many health risks, and many of the residents have children.

State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-North Little Rock) toured the area on Thursday. “It is heartbreaking and of great concern. We’ve got to do something,” she said.

She is hopeful that the problem can be addressed. “I have held meetings with the Army Corps of Engineers and the congressman (Tim Griffin). There has got to be a way to address flooding abatement,” Chesterfield said.

Chesterfield was pleased with the prompt response by state and county officials. “I thank the governor and Lamar Davis (Gov. Beebe’s deputy chief of staff), Rice Depot and Sheriff Doc Holladay.”

Many homes north of Hwy. 161 were also flooded, a repeat of what happened there in 2009.

As a pair of snow geese rested on the water in his backyard on Thursday, Michael Musselwhite described evacuating with his father for three days. The men rented a room at the Econo Lodge in Jacksonville. The bill came to $185, which the landlord will deduct from their rent.

Joey Price, who lives along Hwy. 161, said, “I called the Jacksonville city engineer, and they will never admit that that is the problem. But to see the evidence, it’s clearly Waste Management. I understand this may be a 100-year event, but when you take that many acres out of the flood plain, the water has to go somewhere and now we are seeing the results.”

Terry Luckadue, who lives on School Drive near Jacksonville Middle School, said the water got as close as it has ever been.

“I can’t remember Hwy. 67 ever flooding. I think it’s the landfill,” he said. Luckadue said that next time, his neighborhood might not be so lucky.

Luckadue has been reviewing Waste Management’s Two Pine application with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. The application is available online at

He believes that “Jacksonville changed the floodplain map to accommodate the landfill.” Luckadue said the landfill stated that it would redirect runoff into Brushy Creek and into Bayou Meto.

“We’re going to become an island because Hwy. 67 was the only way out of town,” Luckadue said.

The detour meant a three-hour commute home from work for his wife while Hwy. 67/167 was closed.

Christon Anderson, 18, fought to keep his balance in the deep, rushing water Sunday night as he went to check on his family’s chickens and dogs at their farmland on Valentine Road.

“I had to make sure my animals were safe,” he said.

On Thursday, Anderson and his friend Howard Boston again waded in knee-deep water to take dog food to his stranded pets.

Anderson said that the area didn’t have any flooding until 2009.

Further down Valentine Road, James Tidwell and Cedric Dobbins also said that flooding was never a problem in Dick Jeter until recently.

“I’ve been down here all my life, and never saw it this bad,” Dobbins said.

Red Cross workers drove a van, distributing care packages and snapping photos of the damage while Tidwell and Dobbins speculated about the cause of flooding.

“I think it’s because of the landfill,” Dobbins said.