Thanks to the renewal of a federally funded program, rural roadways in most Texas County townships will receive some extra attention this year.
After an EF5 tornado leveled much of Joplin in May of 2010, a scenario unfolded that made money available to counties well outside the actual disaster zone through what was called the Disaster Recovery Jobs Program (DRJP). Texas County was eligible and reaped the benefits of DRJP funding for a two-year period between October 2011 and October 2013.
DRJP money provided equipment and paid for labor, fuel and every other aspect of having crews of workers remove debris around rural county roads, chip away rock to form ditches and execute other forms of road improvement. The program resulted in more than $1 million being funneled into Texas County.
Basically because of last year’s extensive flooding in Waynesville and other parts of Missouri, the DRJP has been restarted, and as of Monday of last week, crews were at work again in Texas County.
Jack Watson, chairman of the Texas County Township Advisory Board (made up of officials from the county’s 17 townships), said the two phases of the DRJP represent the first times the county has qualified for such funding.
“When this first came out and they had a meeting with the commissioners, they called me and I went down and listened to the description of it,” Watson said. “I said, ‘It’s too good to be true – there’s a catch somewhere.’ But there isn’t; it’s all paid for.”
Neither the townships nor the county are under any financial obligation to participate in the DRJP. Every cent of workers’ wages is covered, as are and all equipment-related costs, including fuel and other supplies.
Only 10 of Texas County’s 17 townships took part in phase one, while 13 are in on it this time. Burdine, Clinton, Current and Date townships opted not to participate.
“I can’t understand why 17 townships didn’t go into the first one and then into this one,” Watson said, “but they didn’t. There’s paperwork involved and a little bit of headache with it, but it’s worth it. You look at the figures and you can see what it brought to our county – over a million dollars. That’s a shot in the arm and something we would never have gotten – and it cost us nothing, except a little time to administer and be in charge of the workers.”
“It did provide a lot of benefits to the county,” said Texas County Presiding Commissioner Fred Stenger. “And it came at a most opportune time. It provided a lot of part-time jobs for folks who were underemployed or unemployed, which was a real Godsend for us with the way the economy has been.”
There are five DJRP regions in Missouri, covering counties from the central part of the state to the Arkansas border. Texas County is in the south-central region and administration of program here is overseen by the Workforce Investment Board office in West Plains.
The second go-round differs from the first in that townships have this time been put in groups that share equipment and crews. During phase one, each township got its own gear and crew.
Watson, who is also Cass Township board president, said his group (Cass, Piney and Jackson) will have a three-man crew and the use of two skid steers equipped with hydra-hammers. The goal will be to carve better roadside ditches out of rock and to remove rock that’s sticking up in the middle of roads.
“We would never have gotten the rock out in some places if it hadn’t been for this program,” Watson said. “And once we chip away rock, all that debris is ours to put back on the road, put in ditches or use in any way we want.”
Watson said the second DRJP phase will allow crews to work where they didn’t get chance before time ran out last time, or return to spots that need more attention.
“We didn’t get all of roads 100-percent,” Watson said. “We’d get the worst and then move to another road and get the worst there. Now we’re going to go back and catch some of the places where we need to go deeper.”
The program is funded in six-month increments and was extended three times during its first phase from 2011 to 2013.
“There’s no guarantee, but they feel sure it will be extended again,” Watson said. “We’ve certainly got enough rock in our township to run it two more years.”
During the program’s first phase, more than $770,000 was spent on workers’ wages in Texas County. Cass Township was the first to begin work in the county and the last to stop, and more than $300,000 in DRJP funds were spent on road improvement in the township (including more than $200,00 in wages covering more than 16,000 man hours).
“If we tried to save that kind of money, it would take us 10 years,” Watson said. “We basically got 10 years worth of work in two, and there was no cost to us. There has never been a program like this, and there probably won’t be another.”
It’s all about channeling water and helping keep Texas County’s many miles of dirt and gravel roadways intact.
“During this phase, we’ll be trying to reconstruct more ditch lines and large rock shelves,” Stenger said. “I think if we were where we need to be, our drainage system would be close to being sufficient to carry away a lot of the flood waters. Not always, but in a lot of cases.”
Missouri counties approved for federal Disaster Recovery Jobs Program funding: Barry, Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Christian, Douglas, Dunklin, Howell, Iron, Jasper, Madison, McDonald, Miller, Mississippi, New Madrid, Newton, Oregon, Ozark, Pemiscot, Perry, Polk, Reynolds, Ripley, Saint Francois, Saint Genevieve, Scott, Shannon, Stoddard, Stone, Taney, Texas, Washington, Wayne, Webster and Wright.
For more information about the DRJP (including how to apply for work), log onto http://www.mo.gov/work/unemployment/disaster-recovery-jobs-program/.
We basically got 10 years worth of work in two, and there was no cost to us. There has never been a program like this, and there probably won’t be another.”