Friday, June 27, 2014

TOP STORY >> Erwin, Staley thanked for tornado help

Leader staff writer

“We felt so helpless,” Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson told the Lonoke County Quorum Court on Thursday night, referring to the April 27 tornado that hit his county.

“We had everyone out working and still couldn’t get to everyone who needed help. It was an unspeakable disaster,” he said.

But Lonoke County was there quicker, longer and more in force than any other county, Dodson said, “And that’s why I’m here tonight at your quorum court meeting, to say thanks.”

He thanked Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin, the county road department, Sheriff John Staley and his department with a proclamation.

The Faulkner County judge said the damage was just indescribable from the April tornado. “It was a high EF-4 tornado that left a path of destruction and broken lives a quarter mile wide and 24.16 miles long. To get an idea of how long that is, get in your cars and take I-40 east for that distance and you are on the other side of Little Rock. It was a large area of damage,” Dodson said.

“The first call for aid, help, assistance came from Judge Erwin,” he said, “He simply asked, ‘What do you need us to do?’” Dodson asked Erwin and his crew to come down Hwy. 89 to Dam Road and clear the roadway.

About 13 members of the road department, along with Erwin, Staley and several individuals from the sheriff’s department went to work immediately.

Staley and his crew helped provide perimeter security while Erwin and the road crew started clearing the highway.

“They were out there at night in the rain, the wind, under threat of more tornadoes. They did not stop until about 4:30 a.m., when they had reached Dam Road and opened it up,” Dodson said. “You had guys on the track hoe, others working the dump trucks and six to eight with saws. Again, all volunteering their time.”

When he asked them to clear a path to Dam Road, Dodson had no idea there were three structure fires.

“Yes, we had help from other counties, but nothing like Lonoke,” he said.

“Lonoke was first on site and first to find one of our victims,” Dodson said.

Erwin called the event a “life-changing experience.” Both he and Dodson said there were so many people who lost everything.

Dodson said it was hard to explain or show the amount of pride he had for the Lonoke County workers. “You’ll never know how important it was to us in that time of helplessness. We went at it with both barrels blazing, but we weren’t even getting to the tip of the iceberg,” the judge explained.

He added that Faulkner and Lonoke County trucks hauled 1,000 loads of debris just out of one subdivision, Plantation Acres.

The question after the initial disaster response was what to do with all that debris. In response to one of the justices of the peace, Dodson said Faulkner County has six large debris sites and is working systemically to empty each site.

Taking time and effort to shake all the volunteers’ hands, Dodson made this promise to Erwin:

“Your next disaster, someone will have to run awfully fast to beat Faulkner County in giving aid to Lonoke County,” Dodson said.

In other quorum court business:

 Justices of the peace gave the county judge the authority to apply for a $121,250 GIF grant for a fluoridation project and a $1,009 grant to buy a backup generator for the volunteer fire department.

 The court approved of placing $2,000 in the sheriff’s drug control fund for sting operations by the department.

 An ordinance doing away with the Grand Prairie/Bayou Two water board met with opposition from JP Mike Verkler (Dist. 8).

He was worried that the switch from a water board to a public authority form of control would lessen the control of ratepayers, the county and the court.

JP Tim Lemons (Dist. 5) said the water group officially switched from a pubic water board organization to a public authority in 2012 and that this ordinance was needed just as a cleanup.

An attorney for the water authority said that the switchover dissolved the board.

“Then why are we here with this ordinance, if there is no board, and why did we make an appointment to the board last month?” Verkler asked.

The court decided not to take any action on the ordinance until next month, giving the water authority time to present its bylaws and Verkler and others time to review the changes.

“We need to make sure this is the best deal for our ratepayers,” Verkler said.

 The court’s building committee had a long discussion over the heating and air problems at the jail. “The units that were put in are called light commercial, but the unit at my house is bigger,” said Sheriff Staley. He told the committee that compressors and other components have been replaced numerous times already and that the pipes underground are damaged.

The sheriff said air coming into the building is warm and could damage the department’s computer system, software and server. He is using portable air conditioners in dispatch to make sure the equipment stays cool. “It will cost us a lot of money to fix properly,” he said.

JP B.J. Weathers suggested a mister that would sprinkle water on the air conditioner units to lessen their workload.

Lemons said there was a three-year warranty on faulty workmanship and that was what it sounded like to him. “We need to hurry with all the necessary paperwork to file a case. Three years is up in August.”

Roof leaks was another area where Lemons believes shoddy workmanship is at fault. Staley said most of the water is falling in the detention area, and in other places. The inmates complain and then their mamas call, he said.