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El Dorado involved in hazard mitigation planning

by Tia Lyons | November 27, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

The city of El Dorado is getting help with its part in a county-wide hazard mitigation plan and the drafting process for the plan is nearing conclusion.

Katie Hardy, resiliency coordinator for Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District in Magnolia, recently appeared before the El Dorado City Council to lay out the details of the project.

SWAPDD is partnering with Union County to develop a hazard mitigation plan, which includes El Dorado.

"Hazard mitigation plans are written and verified by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency," Hardy explained on Nov. 10. "And, so they're required in order to qualify for federal hazard mitigation funds."

Hardy said the funding source may be used for a variety of protections against natural hazards, including floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, wildfires and winter storms.

Some eligible projects are community safe rooms; rain gardens to redirect the flow of water away from structures and roads during flooding; and bridge and dam retrofits to fortify the structures and prevent failures in a natural hazard event.

Catastrophic activity, such as chemical spills, is considered man-made and would not qualify for federal hazard mitigation funds, Hardy told council members.

She said the mitigation plan is made up of four main components: the planning process; defining the planning/geographical area that it covers; existing resources and applicable resources that are not available; hazard identification and risk assessment; and mitigation.

The planning process includes draft reviews by the ADEM -- who will make recommendations and if, necessary send the proposed plan back to SWAPDD for edits -- and FEMA.

Once the plan is adopted by the state and federal agencies, the city must then sign an adoption document, which will be good for five years.

Hardy said the city must also conduct a plan maintenance process by reviewing the mitigation plan once a year to assess the progress of any mitigation actions and what projects the city wants "to start tackling next."

The mitigation plan must be updated and renewed every five years, she said.

Referring to the third step, hazard identification and risk assessment, Hardy said SWAPDD compiles data from each documented natural hazard that occurred between 1950 and 2021 and lays it out on a spreadsheet.

"And through that, we create a probability -- a percentage that tells us how likely it is to happen in the future," she explained.

Hardy said the planning process has been underway for about two years, noting that the project began with her immediate predecessor at SWAPDD.

"I started in January, so I picked up where she left off," Hardy said, adding that SWAPDD expects to send a draft of the Union County Hazard Mitigation plan to the ADEM for review this week.

The plan not only includes Union County and cities and towns in the county, it also includes area school districts.

The county-wide mitigation committee is made up of county Judge Mike Loftin, Bobby Braswell, director of the county Office of Emergency Management, El Dorado fire Chief Chad Mosby, Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts and mayors of all incorporated jurisdictions and public-school superintendents around the county.

Findings for El Dorado

The draft plan noted that El Dorado has been a member of the National Flood Insurance Program since 1974 and is in good standing with the program.

City officials and Robert Edmonds, director of public works, have said that the city's flood plan has not been significantly updated since it joined the NFIP.

El Dorado City Council members did not support a previous suggestion by Council Member Andre Rucks to hire a consultant to update the plan, citing the cost of the project and economic uncertainties that had been prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The risk assessment portion of the county mitigation plan proposal determined that the city could improve its capabilities with additional management and training for current management positions that deal with stormwater, erosion, stream, floodplain, zoning and building code issues.

Earlier this year, Council Member and Mayor-elect Paul Choate took on a months-long project to ensure that the city's assets are adequately insured.

He had found that many city properties, including municipal buildings -- City Hall, the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium, etc. --, were woefully under-insured, by millions of dollars in some cases, or not insured at all.

He noted the close proximity of City Hall, Central Fire Station and the El Dorado Police Department and expressed concern about how the buildings and their contents could potentially be destroyed if the area were struck by a catastrophic event.

Choate worked with the heads of each city department to identify and valuate city properties and secured a competitively-priced, insurance plan with the Arkansas Municipal League.

Shortly after he came on as Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer's administrative assistant in 2019, Pierce Moore, now the city's human resources director, apprised city officials of the situation and reiterated the matter a few times afterward.

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