News Story No. 5 of 2013: Cleon clobbers Carroll County
CARROLL COUNTY -- The treacherous roads left behind by Winter Storm Cleon caused accidents, seven days of school closures and public outcry about the length of time it took to get the area's roads cleared.
"I have been at this job for nine years, and there has not been another storm we've worked through that has been as tough," Steve Lawrence of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said, adding the difficulty was in the combination of the ice, snow and low temperatures, not one particular aspect.
The ice accumulations for Dec. 5 and 6 were estimated to be between one-tenth and two-tenths of an inch, according to data from the National Weather Service, and snowfall totals were between 4 and 10 inches. The southeast portion of the county got more ice, while the northwest area received more snow accumulation.
On Dec. 6, two 18-wheelers were stuck on U.S. Highway 62 West near the Leatherwood bridge, and another 18-wheeler -- just loaded at Tyson -- overturned while heading east near Alpena. Reports of cars sliding off the road came in from across the county.
Even the road crews were having trouble maneuvering in the weather. According to County Judge Sam Barr, the Carroll County Road Department had both a truck and a dump truck go into a ditch on Dec. 6, and a road grader got stuck also.
"I have so many two-wheel drive cars in ditches right now," Holiday Island Road Superintendent Kenny DeHart said on Dec. 9. "People don't understand how to drive in this, and two-wheel drives have no business being on the road. The roads are still treacherous, and some places are still slicked over."
Road conditions weren't much better elsewhere in the county, and were the major factor in school being called off Dec. 5 through 13.
"We're down to that ice layer we have been at for a day or two," Kirby Murray of the Berryville Department of Public Works said on Dec. 9. "The plows won't scrape it off so we can just keep gravelling intersections. Other than that, we are just poking away at it."
"The roads are thawing slowly and that is about it," Buddy Fry of the Green Forest Department of Public Works said, also on Dec. 9. "We are just trying to get the ice off the streets, but struggling. It is not warm enough yet. We are putting salt on it and scraping it, and that is all we can do to it."
Area road crews received complaints comparing the clear roads in Missouri to the rather treacherous ones in Arkansas. Lawrence said the difference was simply because the Missouri road crews are better equipped to deal with winter weather, adding that the Missouri and Arkansas maintenance engineers planned to meet to share tactics for dealing with ice and snow.
"They are better equipped," Lawrence said of Missouri. "Just because they tell us what they did doesn't mean we are equipped to do it."
The Missouri Department of Transportation brought extra equipment in from unaffected areas to help out, but most of the rest of Arkansas was covered with ice, so there was not unused equipment to bring in.
Lawrence said that approximately 70 people and 40 pieces of equipment -- including dump trucks, snow plows and road graders -- were dispatched from northern Missouri to southern Missouri to help the local crews with the ice and snow.
According to Lawrence, before the storm started last week, Missouri put 200 pounds of salt per lane mile on the state highways, and he said that District 9 of the AHTD doesn't have a storage facility large enough to accommodate that amount of salt.
District 9 has a total of 75 pieces of equipment, and its coverage area includes Carroll, Baxter, Benton, Boone, Madison, Marion, Newton and Searcy counties.
Barr said the reason there's no competition compared to the Missouri clean-up efforts is that Carroll County does not have the same tax base as its Missouri neighbors.
Green Forest Mayor Charles Reece sent a letter to Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe requesting better preparations be made in handling winter storms in the future.
"My concern lies not with the hard-working employees of the Arkansas Highway Department, but with the decision-making on the part of management regarding use of available resources," Reece wrote. "I have to assume the state has a budget for road maintenance and snow and ice removal, and with this being our first storm, there should have been funds available to clear the highways and roads in a more timely manner.
"I also understand other states have more tax receipts to use for their highway department budgets, but this part of Northwest Arkansas should not have to wait five days for their roads to be cleared, regardless of funding. Not only was it inconvenient, it was dangerous to those who had daily business obligations or emergency-related issues."
David Bell, Kristal Kuykendall, Kathryn Lucariello and Landon Reeves contributed to this report.