Local County, and Federal Governments and Agencies collaborate to protect Conway County community

By: Becca Nappi

OPPELO, Ark. – When water started moving into Oppelo on the south side of Highway 9 near the Conway County Levee No. 6 on May 26, city, county and federal agencies and people immediately sprang into action to help protect the local community.

Conway County Emergency Management director, Johnathan Trafford, was notified of the location of the leak by a local licensed drone operator, Josh Moore who had been using his drone to help maximize inspections on the Arkansas River throughout Conway County.

After the source of the levee leak was found, Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart along with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District, the City of Morrilton and Conway County Emergency Management began work to find a solution to stopping the leak before major damage could be done.

“This is an incredible example of what can be accomplished quickly and successfully when you have people from the local, county and federal level working together,” said Col. Robert Dixon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District commander.  “Our engineers provided the technical support to develop a plan, while the county and local governments and agencies provided the quick resources to execute a solid solution for the community.”

The National Guard even had a hand at helping to sedate the levee leak by having pilots use a Blackhawk to drop large sandbags at the source of the leak.

“The National Guard used their helicopters to drop 38, 3,200 lbs sandbags called “supersacks” on the river side of the levee, that’s over 123,000 lbs. of sand which is almost 62 tons,” said Jonathan Palmer, Little Rock District civil engineer.  “But it didn’t stop the leak like we needed it to, so we had to come up with a new plan, quick.”

Palmer, along with Little Rock District civil engineer Casey Baker and electrical engineer Stephen Herman, provided technical engineering expertise to come up with a new solution to contain the leak; a sheet piling structure.

Little Rock District civil engineers, Casey Baker and Jonathan Palmer, watch over the construction site at Conway County Levee No. 6 on June 2, 2019 as work continued to create a sheet piling basin for the water from the levee leak. These dedicated Army Corps of Engineers employees developed an innovative solution to contain the levee leak. (Photo by Becca Nappi)

The structure would use sheet pilings to create a basin-like area for the leaking water to be stored in on the land-side of the levee.  Once the level of water inside the structure was equal with the water level on the river side of the levee, the leak would relieve its pressure on the levee and cease flooding the community.

Sheet piles are inserted into the ground near the Conway Co. Levee No. 6 on June 1, 2019 to create an area for the water from the levee leak to be stored in and prevent the water from further flooding the area. (Photo by Becca Nappi)

“It’s like a cofferdam but the opposite, since we want water to stay inside the structure instead of outside of it,” said Palmer. “It’s a good temporary fix until the Arkansas River waters recede.”

This structure required a lot of dirt. Over 15,000 cubic yards to be exact, which would not have been easily obtained if it was not for Zinser Farms allowing the county to not only work on their land, but also use the over 15,000 cubic yards of dirt found on the farm.

County Judge Hart enlisted the help of local business Lentz Construction Company to move the massive amounts of dirt into place to create a solid work area for the structure since it had been under water all throughout the levee leak.  Without the assistance of Lentz Construction, the over 15,000 cubic yards of dirt placed over the two and a half days would not have been possible.

Local business, Mobley Contractors, was also on the site placing the 45 foot sheet pilings 30 feet deep into the ground alongside dirt being placed by county road department employees.  Mobley’s massive Vibratory Sheet Piler placed the sheet pilings in the shape of a semicircle around the part of the levee leaking.  All this along with additional help from the county government, the City of Morrilton and Conway County Emergency Management made the entire process wrap-up by Sunday, June 2.

Crew from Mobley Contractors use a vibratory sheet piler to insert sheet piles into the ground near the Conway County Levee No. 6 on June 1, 2019. The levee’s leak caused flooding that threatened to close down the AR-9, but thanks to a collaborative effort by the County Judge, local community members, business owners, and agencies, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, a solution was developed to prevent the leak from causing any further damage. (Photo by Becca Nappi)

Once the final sheet piling was put into place, the structure began to fill with water allowing everyone to give a sigh of relief. The structure has prevented heavily trafficked AR-9 from being shut down, which was the only Arkansas River crossing in Conway County.  By keeping the bridge open, businesses, suppliers, and emergency services remained readily available in the area.

The structure also saved a decade’s worth of farm land from being destroyed and allowed local businesses to continue to operate under normal conditions.  This includes the Green Bay Packaging Inc. Arkansas Kraft Division, which employs approximately 400 direct employees and 2,400 indirect employees.

“I want to sincerely thank all those who had a hand in this,” said Col. Dixon. “From the operators of the machinery to the countless volunteers who came out and kept this team hydrated and fed, this was a massive and laborious effort that helped the community so tremendously.”

After the Arkansas River waters recede, Little Rock District will conduct a levee assessment that will give Conway County the information necessary to fix and maintain the levee.



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