LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ governor on Thursday ordered a review of the state’s levees and is asking lawmakers to approve $10 million for immediate repairs after historic flooding along the Arkansas River.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order to create the Arkansas Levee Task Force to study and analyze the condition of the state’s levees. Hutchinson said the panel will have about 20 members and will make recommendations to him by December 31 on ways to improve monitoring and maintenance of the state’s levee system.
“We have a lot of work ahead,” Hutchinson, a Republican, said at a news conference at the state Capitol. “One, to learn from what we’ve experienced in the last few weeks in our levy system, how we can improve the system for the future and to make sure we’re better prepared for the floods we know will come periodically in the state of Arkansas.”
Several Arkansas levees were affected by the flooding that began in late May, including one in western Arkansas that was breached. Hutchinson said the flooding revealed many weaknesses in the state’s levee system. President Donald Trump earlier this month approved a major disaster declaration for several counties hit by the flooding.
Hutchinson said the panel’s tasks will include identifying sources and requirements for funding the construction, repair and maintenance of the 93 levees in the state.
The governor noted that less than 20 of those levee boards have filed reports required under a 2017 law about the condition of their levees and their organizational structure. He said some levee reports weren’t filed because they didn’t have anyone overseeing them.
“That is one of the challenges we face,” he said. “We have levees that are needed, but there’s not an organizational structure that will provide the maintenance, the inspections that are needed to keep them up to standard and to levy any assessments that are needed to provide the funding for the maintenance of those levees.”
Hutchinson called the $10 million in funding a start and said additional funding may be proposed based on the task force’s recommendations.
State Democrats said they supported the additional funding, but blamed Republican leaders who they said haven’t put a high enough priority on infrastructure needs. Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature.
“It’s sad that it takes so many Arkansans facing a catastrophe like this to make those same leaders realize that infrastructure should be a priority,” State Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray said in a statement.