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NRCS Program Saves Ponca, Arkansas, Home

Although raging waters had subsided at Deanna Young’s home in Ponca, Ark., a flood of emotions hit her when she found out the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) would pay 100 percent of the cost of protecting her home from falling into Adds Creek.

“I couldn’t hold back the tears,” Young said. “My prayers had been answered.”

The mother of three, who works a full-time job at a Christian book warehouse and two part-time jobs cleaning buildings and mowing a cemetery, applied for a loan to meet the 25 percent cost share required by NRCS’ Emergency Watershed Program (EWP). But there was nothing the bank could do.

The Newton County Conservation District along with the community of Ponca, an unincorporated village with 175 residents, didn’t have the resources to meet the cost-share requirements either.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had called other federal agencies and kept being told they would call me back. I have yet to receive a phone call from them,” Young said.

But, Margaret Lonadier, NRCS district conservationist for Boone and Newton counties, did keep following up with Young. And, when the cost-share became an issue, she sent a note to Arkansas State Conservationist Mike Sullivan.

Although the EWP program doesn’t normally allow NRCS to pay 100 percent of the cost of repairs to an individuals’ property, a waiver can be granted for unusual situations or circumstances.

“This site is a true exigency (a site requiring immediate action). The creek bank eroded back to the foundation of the home. It is now completely exposed and could easily fail during another rainfall event,” Sullivan wrote in a letter to leaders at NRCS headquarters in Washington, D.C. requesting a waiver of the 25 percent cost share.

“Newton County has over 20 percent of the residents living below the poverty level and is designated a USDA StrikeForce County. Economic development is considered a top priority by the USDA. This project will have a positive economic impact on the community. Conversely, a house falling into the creek will have a negative economic impact,” he added.

Arkansas is one of three pilot states participating in the USDA StrikeForce Initiative. The initiative is designed to help relieve persistent poverty in high poverty counties by accelerating USDA assistance while working closely with Community Based Organizations.

A 10-foot-wide by 240-foot-long swath of the stream bank was washed downstream to the picturesque Buffalo National River, America’s first designated national river.

“Stabilizing the stream bank will not only protect the home, but will also prevent further deposition of sediment in the Buffalo National River,” Sullivan said.

“The repair entails stabilizing the bank with stone filled gabions backfilled with rocks and soil," said Arkansas NRCS State Engineer Walt Delp. "The gabions, rectangular wire containers, will be stacked on top of each other to prevent further erosion."

“The gabion baskets, which measure a cubic yard, will be stacked three high for 165 feet creating a 9-foot wall. On the remaining 75-feet, the wall will be 6-feet high. The walls will be placed where the stream bank used to sit, 8-feet from the side of the house,” said Todd Stringer, NRCS design engineer. “Once the structure is in place, it will be back filled with soil to reinforce the stream bank and act as a retaining wall to protect Ms. Young’s home.”

For Young, talking about the rising waters, the damage afterwards and the help she is receiving from NRCS still brings tears to her eyes.

“I called my children, who are all out of state in college to tell them my good fortune, and we all cried tears of joy,” Young said.

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