LITTLE ROCK — More than 50 property owners in Van Buren County would be in jeopardy of losing their federal flood insurance if a Clinton landowner does not tear down a dam he was not authorized to build, lawmakers heard Wednesday.
In July, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission ordered Dan Eoff, best known for his annual National Chuckwagon Races in Clinton, to hire an engineer to submit plans for tearing down a dam he built on his property last year without permits and in a federally designated flood way.
The 30 foot tall earthen dam is located along a tributary that intermittently flows into the South Fork of the Little Red River in Van Buren County.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the waterway downstream from the homemade dam is home to two endangered species, the yellowcheek darter and the speckled pocket book mussel.
Eoff has filed a complaint in Van Buren County Circuit Court asking for a review of the commission’s decision. He also has filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA challenging an administrative compliance order.
Randy Young, director of the ANRC, said during a joint meeting of the Senate and House state agencies and governmental affairs committees Wednesday that there is evidence the dam is seeping and that state dam inspectors have no idea how the dam was built. He also said the dam could potentially crumble during a significant flood.
“We determined that it’s about 30 foot tall, certainly above the 50 acre foot capacity, and more importantly determined … that the dam is constructed within the 100-year flood plain as identified and designated by (the Federal Emergency Management Agency),” Young said.
The ANRC director said the city of Clinton and Van Buren County are in the FEMA national flood insurance program and more than 50 residents are participating. That program in the city and county is in jeopardy if the dam is allowed to stay, he said.
Eoff has been told the dam must be permitted by ANCR, but also must satisfy the permitting requirements of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the the Van Buren County flood plain administrator.
The commission in July found that no project engineer was used to build the dam, that it did not meet minimum acceptable standards and has not been maintained adequately. The commission also found the dam does not adequately protect the lives and property of people downstream and the drinking water provided by the Clinton Public Water System.
The commission said Eoff has until Oct. 1 to begin removing the dam at his expense or face a fine of $10,000 a day.
Estimates to remove the dam and replace vegetation are as high as $750,000.
State Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, said Eoff probably was in error when he built the dam, but asked Young if the various federal agencies involved would be willing to reconsider their opposition and work with the landowner to allow him to keep the dam.
Young said he has talked to officials with the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and all have expressed an unwillingness to work with Eoff the keep the dam.
“The answer we got back was negative,” Young said. “The one big hangup is the fact that it is located in the flood plain. There’s only one way to deal with that. Either remove it or go out and hire a consulting engineer to redo the hydraulics and hydrology and hope — and the people I have talked to say you can’t prove it — but hope you can prove that it doesn’t cause the elevation of the 100-year flood to raise.”
Dan Tester, Eoff’s attorney, did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday afternoon seeking comment.