Governor Asa Hutchinson’s address for June 28

Today I’d like to talk about steps we took this week to deal with the damage from recent flooding. We also want to do all we can to minimize destruction from future floods.

This flood revealed the many weaknesses in our state’s system of levees and points to the urgent need to coordinate inspection and maintenance in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers and the local levee boards. We can’t postpone this planning until another historic flood puts us to the test.

The most crucial way for us to accomplish that is to study our levees, and then to incorporate the best practices and technology to strengthen them.

To address the immediate needs, I have designated $10 million from the Reserve Allocation Fund to pay for repairs and maintenance of the levees. I am asking legislators to approve this expenditure to show full state support for rebuilding our infrastructure. The money will go to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, which will direct it to the appropriate areas.

My second act was to sign Executive Order 19-10. This order creates the Arkansas Levee Task Force. This task force will include representatives from several state agencies as well as a county judge, a county clerk, and an elected municipal official. As the need arises, I will add other citizens and legislators, especially those with knowledge of the engineering, construction, funding, or oversight of levees. I’ll probably also tap Arkansans as needed from areas that the flood impacted.

The $10 million for repair and maintenance is a good start, but we will also be asking for federal assistance.

This task force will report its findings and recommendations to me by Dec. 31, 2019.

I will never forget the images of the powerful river as I flew by helicopter between Fort Smith and Little Rock. My tour also reaffirmed my understanding of the critical role of our levees.

In the wake of the flood, we now know that many of our 92 levees are in need of attention. We will never forget the scenes of the breach of the Holla Bend Levee in Yell County, or the other levees that looked as if they might break any second. We were fortunate that only one levee failed. We must act before we face another historic flood.

That means in addition to inspecting our levees, we must talk to local officials about reviving the levee boards and assessing fees, where necessary, to pay for levee upkeep.

We must do everything humanly possible to ensure that our levees are up to the Corps of Engineers’ standards. This applies not just to the Arkansas River but to the levees across the state, whether along the White, St. Francis, Cache, or Red River. We now have the task of finding and fixing the weak links.

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