SENATE effectively guarantees $24 million for ice storm cleanup

Wednesday, July 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An amendment approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday will provide $24 million for ice storm damage recovery in the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Sens. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., and Don Nickles, R-Okla., sponsored the amendment.

``Last winter's ice storms ravaged Arkansas,'' Hutchinson said. ``Unfortunately, the lingering effects of that devastation still pose significant threats of catastrophic forest fires.''

He said the amendment would ensure that Arkansas will get the resources it needs to protect the health of the forest and the surrounding communities.

Ice storms hit the national forest Dec. 13 and 26, resulting in more than 730 miles of blocked development roads and recreational trail, damage to ranger stations, forest radio networks and weather stations and damage to other recreational facilities such as picnic areas and campgrounds.

``This is good news for LeFlore and McCurtain counties,'' Nickles said. ``The Ouachita is a national treasure and important to the economy of Southeast Oklahoma.''

More than 350,000 acres in LeFlore and McCurtain counties now comprise the forest, which covers 1.8 million acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The $24 million is also included in a supplemental bill passed by the House so Hutchinson's amendment guarantees that the funding will remain in the final supplemental bill. The package should clear Congress this week or early next week and go to the president, Hutchinson spokesman D.J. O'Brien said.

Hutchinson said he had seen the immense damage to the Ouachita National Forest.

``Fire experts have stated that fuel loading in the Ouachita National Forest is currently more than 10 times normal levels, threatening the lives and property of all who live in the area,'' Hutchinson said.'' As we move into the hottest months of the summer, we must make sure that the Forest Service has the support it needs to reduce the threat of wildfires.''

Under the legislation, the money will be used to remove down trees, clean up roads and trails and construct firebreaks.

The appropriations measure goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee. The House-passed version also includes $24 million for cleanup in the Ouachita.