Nevada County Quorum Court approves advanced financing of washed-out road fixes, purchase of excavator.
Above: Nevada County Economic Development Director Mary Godwin speaks to the Nevada County Quorum Court Tuesday night.

In its regular July meeting Tuesday night, the Nevada County Quorum Court voted unanimously for two motions. One was to allow County Judge Mike Otwell to seek a short-term loan to finance the fixing of washed out segments on Landfill and Wildcat Roads.  

The other motion lets the judge purchase an excavator to replace one in disrepair. That buy will be made when the county receives a reimbursement for its work on the site of a recent Union Pacific train derailment. It also passed unanimously. 

Before the discussion of the motions, reports were heard by Prescott Nevada Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jamie Hillery and Nevada County Economic Development Office Director Mary Godwin.  Hillery said the Fourth of July events in Prescott and Emmet had been successful and that her office is working on a new community directory, which the county will be given proofs to approve. 

Godwin said that though the interest in locating in the county by Pilot Truck Stops had cooled lately, she had had inquiries from other companies interested in locating there. She also said a decision would be made soon on whether the county would receive a $15,000 grant from Intermodal Authority that could go toward matching costs for a street overlay project. Meanwhile, Arkansas Broadband office has ended the period when localities can offer corrections of a previously released broadband access map and now was compiling a new map that would likely more accurately show the places not served in the county. 

The vote to enable the judge to seek a loan came after a presentation by Nevada County Emergency Management Officer David Gummeson in which he said bids are still being solicited for contractors seeking to do the work of fixing Landfill and Wildcat Roads.  He also said he had seen a proposed price for the project of about $800,000.  Bidding will close in two weeks. So far one bid has been received. 

The cost of fixing the damage on Landfill and Wildcat roads could likely come from a 90/10 federal disaster grant, meaning the county would be responsible for paying for ten percent of the cost of the work. This amount can be covered by in-kind funds, meaning the county can contribute the leftover cost in the form of labor and equipment use. But federal funds do come slowly, meaning the county will have to pay the contractor and be reimbursed later. 

When Justice of the Peace Dennis Pruitt asked whether the two washed out areas on Landfill and Wildcat Roads will be replaced with culverts again, Gummeson said it is likely the Landfill Road issue will be addressed through the building of a bridge, since Federal funds can be used to mitigate the possibility of future damage, unlike state funds which can only be used to replace what was previously installed in the damage location. He said Wildcat Road’s damage would likely be addressed with steel culverts encased in concrete. 

The urgency of the need to fix these roads quickly came through when Gummeson said, “On Landfill, we're losing money daily on not having the Landfill Road open. Once August gets here and the school busses are running, then Wildcat’s going to be an issue. I don't think the judge is getting phone calls yet on Wildcat, but let school open up and it's going to be a different story.” 

Pruitt asked when work could start on the projects.  Gummeson said the ads asking for bids had to run for another week and a half.  “Then it could potentially be within two to three weeks [to] start. And then you're looking at, depending on weather, three weeks, four weeks for each one.” 

JP Herbert Coleman asked about when the contractors would need to be paid. Gummeson replied that the money would come due at project completion. Federal funding for the projects, he said, would likely not be paid until some time after that. 

“So last year with the ice storm, we were out a long time [before] getting paid. I don't foresee this one being near that way, because it was two completely different animals, but the judge and I have been looking at different options, whether getting a short term loan with the low interest rate or different things.” 

JP Willie Wilson asked whether it was definite that federal funds would come through for the projects. “We were granted approval for the Federal Declaration, which means everything is everything is good.” Wilson followed up by asking what the cost of the projects could be. 

“Because the bid is still open. I'm not able [to say]. I can give you a proposed price, and this is proposed, but it could be around $800,000 for them both to be completed. And that is proposed. That is an estimate,” Gummeson said. 

Wilson then asked about the possibility of short-term loans. Judge Otwell said he wanted to avoid taking funds from the county’s certificates of deposit. He reported learning from one local bank that such a loan would be approved as long as the documentation for the federal funds being approved is submitted with the application. 

Gummeson said he believes the federal funds will come faster for the Wildcat and Landfill projects than after the ice storm because of the urgency of repairing an important road going to the Nevada County Landfill. 

Pruitt asked about the status of the Cale Road project, which would be undertaken by the Arkansas Department of Transportation because of its being a State Aid road. Gummeson said it would likely take longer to fix because ARDOT is busy with other projects and it may involve closing about half the road and using flaggers to manage traffic around a curve. 

Earlier in his talk, Gummeson listed recent receipts by the county of reimbursement funds from the federal government for work done to address damage from natural disasters.  For the 2023 Ice Storm about $1.09 million has been reimbursed. When funds are received for tree trimming the county did related to the storm, that total will grow to $1.53 million, he said. For the flood of July of that year, $72,000 has been received for gravel the county contributed to reinforce washed-out roads. 

Funds expected but not yet received include $76,000 for work after the flooding of January of this year. For the more recent flood in May, about $1.8 million is expected, with 11 washouts of roads costing the county about $100,000.  He mentioned that work on Cale Road is going to be reimbursed at 100 percent since it is a State Aid Road, meaning it is maintained using a combination of federal, state and local funds in a program administered by the state of Arkansas. 

Gummeson said the reason he brought up these numbers was to show that “there is money trickling in.” He then mentioned that as of June 24th Nevada County has sent a bill to Union Pacific Railroads for $421,000 for the county’s work after the derailment in Emmet. “Like any other corporation, they don’t pay quickly,” he said. 

Judge Otwell replied that he was supposed to hear from UP Wednesday morning about the bill. He then referred to the contractor who had placed a bid for the Landfill and Wildcat Roads projects. “Here’s one thing I want to add so we don’t miss this,” he said. “This man is building a bridge in Columbia County right now. In two weeks or so, he's going to be done. And so we want to get this landfill road back open, which I call an emergency road. That's a hot road. And then it won’t be long that school's going to be here. That's a bus route. We need to concentrate on getting that one done first and then worry about the rest.” 

Gunneson brought up that the county will likely be given sand gravel that comes from when ARDOT replaces culverts. Ordinarily the amount of gravel would cost $80,000. If the county is not in a position to make use of it in its own culverts when it is offered, it could lose out on the cost savings, he said. 

Judge Otwell said, “Time is of the essence here,” and then requested a motion to allow him to shop the two local banks, Bank of Delight and Farmers Bank, for tbe best rate. Wilson made that motion with Coleman seconding. The motion prevailed on a unanimous roll call vote. 

Afterward Wilson told Gummeson the court appreciated what he had done in making the report. “You have my vote for citizen of the year. I’m going to cast my vote right now, Mrs. Hillery,” he said. 

Next, Judge Otwell said he had learned of the availability of a nearly new 2023 excavator which went for $265,000 when new and was being offered for $175,000. The county’s old excavator, which Otwell said is requiring two hours of non-use for every half hour of use, was assessed as worth $35,000 on a trade-inn, lowering the cost to $140,000.  He made the case that the county’s use of the newly purchased excavator on federally funded projects would make it so the county could more efficiently contribute its required in-kind cost, which would be ten percent of the cost of a federally-funded project. 

JP Chris Fore asked if Otwell knew the cost of repairing the excavator the county currently has. JP Pruitt asked whether the new excavator had the required working air conditioning and was told it did. 

Wilson asked Gummeson when he thought the county would be receiving funds from Union Pacific. He said he had received confirmation through email the payment was in process after he sent a requested itemized list of county expenses. He added that larger claims of over half a million dollars took 60 days or longer and smaller claims took 30 days. Since the bill had been provided by the county on June 24th, Gummeson estimated the county is looking at another two weeks to wait. 

At this, Otwell said he thought the seller of the 2023 excavator could wait for that check to come into the county’s possession. “If not, I know a man that would he told me to make sure that this doesn’t get away, because he's he knows what it is,” Judge Otwell said, prompting Wilson to laughingly respond, “You can turn me on to that man.” 

Otwell then asked Gummeson how much the county had been repaid for the use of its equipment in addressing the aftermath of ice storms. The total paid had been $1,091,853.91 which broke down into $320,000 for ice storm damages, $141,000 for administrative costs and $1,091,000 for equipment and personnel.  Gummeson said again that having good equipment to help with projects requiring in-kind costs from the county would allow those projects to go forward without the county paying from its own funds. 

Wilson then made the motion to allow the judge to buy the excavator with funds coming from Union Pacific. JP Curtis Lee seconded. 

JP Pruitt asked here whether the new excavator would be available in time to use on the Landfill project. Judge Otwell said he thought it would be. Wilson said that if the reimbursement from Union Pacific had not arrived yet, a special meeting of the court would be needed to decide what to do next. 

Wilson’s motion passed unanimously on a roll call voice vote. 

In Citizen’s Comments, a citizen said he had been turned down for a loan on his land because a road easement was needed from the owners of adjacent land to allow vehicle traffic to his land. JP Kenneth Bailey said he would need permission from the landowners. The citizen said he was told by the bank he lacked access to the land. He said a county road existed near his house, County Road 148, but the bank told him that was his driveway. 

“We abandoned that road,” Bailey said. Pruitt said he would need to contact the people who owned the property the road was on to obtain an easement. 

Judge Otwell said he would speak to the citizen personally about his issue in the next day or so. 

JP Wilson said he was pleased with the action of the City of Hope’s Board of Directors and the Hempstead County to purchase the real estate being used by Wadley Regional Medical Center in Hope. “When you’ve got illnesses, heart disease and all of that kind of thing, the closest facility is very important. It's imperative to have the closest facility. So shout out to those two government entities, because it does affect us,” Wilson said. 

“It’s a good deal if it goes through,” Judge Otwell said. 

At that point, the court adjourned.