“The water is receding and hope is rising.”
– Fort Smith Mayor George McGill (June 4, 2019)
Most of us have never experienced the level of devastation caused by the worst flood in our area’s recorded history. In late May, the swollen Arkansas River rolled in covering much of our beloved land, homes, businesses, and attractions. As the river began to rise and flood warnings were issued, staff from departments around the City began to work side-by-side.
There was no Utility or Street or Police or Fire, etc. – just a group of specialized staff working as one organization to serve and protect the City and its citizens. During the height of the flooding and with more rain on the way, staff worked around the clock to monitor the events and run wet weather pump stations to protect the May Branch drainage areas from additional flooding.
As we rebuild, one can clearly see the strength, passion, and resilience of Fort Smith. It is a beautiful sight to witness neighbor helping neighbor and business helping business, all in the name of saving and uplifting the Fort Smith community. The “Yes We Can” spirit fills the air, the minds, and hearts of residents from all parts of the city.
According to the Deputy Director Utility Operations, Lance McAvoy, “Staff is still working to assess the wastewater collection system, run by-pass pumping for areas where pump stations are still not operational, and checking water meters to ensure the citizens receive the best service possible.”
Continuing efforts to help with the hardships some of our citizens have endured, the City of Fort Smith Utility Department will provide adjustments to customers impacted by the flood event. For affected residential customers, June utility bills for water and wastewater will be adjusted to $0, including irrigation accounts. These adjustments will include the base charge and the Arkansas Safe Drinking Water Fee. Affected commercial accounts will receive a 50% adjustment. Should a flood-impacted customer incur high water usage charges on the July bill, it will be adjusted to the customer’s average water usage. July adjustments will be made in an effort to waive fees for water usage during cleanup and restoration.
The Sanitation Department has worked continuously to help flood victims dispose of debris. When the flood water receded, they stepped up collecting flood debris for free and will continue until they have completed all collections. Sanitation has also offered free disposal at the landfill. However, this service will end June 29, 2019. The sanitation fees collected on your utility bill are instrumental in allowing us to offer these services to the community, and we thank you.
In the coming days, affected customers will receive a postcard in the mail with information regarding their adjustment. The notice will include contact information for questions and/or concerns.
We would like to extend a special thank you to the Red Cross for providing us with a list of flood-impacted customers. Working with other agencies during the flood event has allowed us to reach out and more effectively help our citizens.
We have learned a lot from this event. We are emerging a stronger and more knowledgeable Utility and City. The work continues and it will take several months to fully recover, but recover we will. As Mayor McGill says, “We are Fort Smith proud and River Valley Strong.”
Editor’s note: Jurena Storm is communications and training manager for the Fort Smith Utility Department. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.