Thanks to some intervention by Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, a Hazard Mitigation Plan that has been in the works for several years is one step closer to being adopted.
The plan requires that all jurisdictions that want to be eligible for financial assistance in the form of grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have a comprehensive plan on dealing with hazardous events such as flooding, tornadoes, high winds, chemical spills, train derailments and a variety of other natural and man made situations. That requirement was a part of federal legislation in 2000; Jefferson County’s original plan was developed in 2006 and expired in 2011.
In 2014, the county received a $55,744 grant from the “Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program” to contract with a professional hazard mitigation planning vendor to update the plan, with the county required to pay a 25 percent match. The money would come out of the Office of Emergency Management budget in four payments, with the final payment due this year.
“What happened is that every time the county submitted a plan to FEMA, a reviewer would want some changes made and would send it back,” said Lloyd Franklin Jr., the chief of staff for Wilkins. “After the changes were made, it was sent back to FEMA where it would go on the bottom of the pile, and the second reviewer might not be the one that reviewed it the first time and they would want their own changes.”
Franklin said Wilkins contacted FEMA and got the procedures changed. A letter from FEMA to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management dated April 11 said they have completed the formal review of Jefferson County’s plan. Now it is up to the various agencies who are affected, including all the cities in the county and the school districts, to sign off on a resolution to accept the plan. The Jefferson County Quorum Court on Monday formally adopted the plan, and a resolution to adopt it is on the agenda for the Pine Bluff City Council this Monday.
“We hope that everybody has approved it by the end of July,” Wilkins said.
He said that he has made arrangements with FEMA to conduct a training exercise later this year, and as the senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, he said that the church has already conducted training exercises in several areas, including a chemical attack or active shooter situation.
“We did those on a quarterly basis,” said Wilkins, who is stepping down as pastor at the end of the month to devote all his time to his duties as county judge. “That way people will know where to go and who to look for. We want to make sure everybody is accounted for.”
As a long-time member of the Arkansas State Legislature, both as a representative and senator, Wilkins said he was asked frequently to use a portion of the General Improvement Funds he received to match FEMA grants, but the governor has cut that program back.