Work begins to repair Fort Smith pump stations damaged in 2019 flooding

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,601 views 

View of the Interstate 540 bridge during the historic May 2019 flooding with the former Lighthouse Restaurant in the foreground. (photo courtesy of Austin Collins Freelance Photography)

A year and a half after the historic flooding of the Arkansas River in May 2019 damaged several  Fort Smith pump stations, more than $4 million in much-needed repairs are underway.

There were 13 building permits for repairs of the pump stations by Van Horn Construction, Inc., ranging in cost from $8,760 to $1.8 million for the repair of 13 pump stations damaged in the floods. The total cost of repairs is estimated at $4.59 million, according to the building permit report for the week of Dec. 7-11. There were also two stations damaged so badly, they will need to be completely rebuilt, said Director of Utilities Lance McAvoy.

“The flood damaged everything quickly. Repairs take a while,” McAvoy said. “We appreciate the citizens being patient with us while we get the repairs completed and everything back online.”

Historic flooding hit the Arkansas River (McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, or MKARNS) in May-June of 2019 after rains of up to 600% above normal in northeast Oklahoma and southeast Kansas overtook the capacity of Oklahoma reservoirs to store the water.

Along with repairing the damage caused by the flood, stations are being modified so another flood like the one in 2019 will not damage the stations, McAvoy said. The utility department is using diesel by-pass pumps for the two stations that need to be rebuilt and other pumps that could not operate without repairs, but those are a temporary fix, McAvoy said.

The total cost of repair and rebuild for the pump stations damaged by the flooding is estimated at $12 million, McAvoy said. All work on the stations is in the utilities department’s capital improvement plan for the coming years, which McAvoy presented to the Board of Directors in October.

The department is still waiting on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to approve a plan presented to rebuild the two severely damaged pumps. The city also is waiting for FEMA reimbursement for all the projects. The city will pay for the projects, and then FEMA will reimburse them for 75% of the cost, McAvoy said. The city contracted the repair work to Russellville-based Van Horn Construction.