The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) announced last week a grant in an amount up to $150,000 from the Water Development Fund to the Willow Slough Drainage District in Jackson County, according to Commission Chairman Sloan Hampton.
"These funds will be used to remove debris blockage in the Cache River channel near Grubbs as contained in Section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers," said Mark Bennett, ANRC Water Development Division Manager. The grant, which will cover approximately half the cost of the project according to Jackson County Judge Jeff Phillips, is a welcome relief to the county. "This is something that they have been working on since the 1960's. There are four logjams there. The first two, which are the largest, are what we are trying to get removed. The other two are on further down." Phillips continued, "But, if we can get the front two down then will allow the water to go down at a normal level. Instead of the water coming down here, bottlenecking up and staying, it will go down at a normal level and that is all we are asking for." The grant will help fund the removal of the two logjams on the Cache River "within a few miles south of Grubbs," Phillips notes. While approximately half of the project cost has been secured, Phillips is quick to caution that a lot of work is still left to do. "I'm hoping by the end of next month that we can have the permit. Right now we are looking at mitigation sites. We have to have a spot to plant hardwood trees - which is part of the mitigation. The water has killed the hardwood trees that are there." He added, "The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is wanting the wetlands restored and the hardwood restored so we are looking to see if we can plant cypress there but we don't know that yet." Cypress differs from other hardwoods like Oak because it thrives in the water and wetland areas while standing water will kill Oaks and other forms of hardwoods planted, Phillips explained. Although a proposed mitigation site fell through "at the last minute" Phillips hopes that securing a site soon will green light the permit and allow for construction to begin. The judge notes that clearing of the river in Greene County and above has caused flood waters to race into the area with very little room to move besides spilling out of the banks. "They have cleared all of this out and what used to take two weeks to get down here, now takes days, because there aren't any natural obstructions. It just rushes down here now," he explained. After removing half of the logjams in the area, the impact will be studied and "maybe we can do more. But, right now, we are just trying to get it to go down at a normal level. It is not going to stop flooding, you are by a river, you are going to get flooding. But, if it would just go down quicker it would help." The ANRC's Bennett and Phillips, among others, met with Governor Mike Beebe, whose support was instrumental in securing the funds, the Judge believes. However, others played a large part, he noted. "Congressman (Rick) Crawford's office and Senator (John) Boozman's office have worked with us to set up a non-profit Cache River Association which involves every county judge from the beginning to the end of the Cache River as well as many other prominent people impacted by the river," Phillips explained. Those people serve on a 15-person board, of which Phillips is the President, that will oversee the project. "This association was set up for members to join for $50 and those dues will pay for future maintenance as well as a portion of the project cost, if need be." Anyone wishing to become a member of the Cache River Association should contact Phillips.