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Conservation Districts and County Commissioners Collaborate on Versatile Equipment
County Commissioners in western Oklahoma are taking advantage of an opportunity to help conservation districts maintain the local flood control infrastructure. Custer, Roger Mills and Washita County Commissioners, have helped Washita County, Upper Washita and Custer County Conservation districts obtain heavy equipment for that purpose. The pieces of equipment being purchased are classified as compact track loaders, sometimes called “skid steers.” The earth- and material-moving machines are adaptable through the attachment of specialized tools.
George Moore, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Conservation Programs watershed technician, noticed one of these pieces of equipment in use one day, installing grass sod along side a road. What caught his interest was the sloping angle of the roadside, much like sloping land on flood control dams. The track loader seemed to have no difficulty maneuvering on the slope. It occurred to Moore that conservation districts might find many uses for such equipment.
“In addition to being able to function well on slopes, the great thing about these machines is the vast number of attachments available for them,” Moore said. “Each district can select the attachments that will best address their local needs.” Districts can outfit the machines to clean up storm debris – tree limbs, etc. – around the site and even from downstream culverts. The machines can be fitted to cut and move trees or to reshape ground damaged by animal burrows, cattle trails or erosion from weather. Moore said the machines are outfitted with roll bars and other safety features to minimize the risk of injury to employees.
Moore estimates that by the time one machine clears 25 sites, it will pay for itself compared to hiring contractors for the same work. Even at current near $3 per gallon fuel prices, a 10-hour day using the machine would cost around $100 compared to expecting to pay a contractor $1,000 for the same work.
Moore asked Washita County CD employees Yuel Farris and Dudley Griffith if equipment like that would help in maintaining the 124 dams under their responsibility. The answer was resoundingly positive. Next they approached the county commissioners and provided information showing the number of watershed flood control dams in their area and the bridges and roads that those dams protect. The cost of investing in equipment for the conservation district to use in maintaining those sites was much smaller than the cost of replacing washed out bridges and roads. That’s not to mention the damage to other property and hazards to public safety that the washout of a bridge or road would almost certainly pose. After Farris and Griffith made a proposal to the Washita County Commissioners, the commissioners actively participated in helping secure a Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) grant of $54,700 through the Southwest Oklahoma Development Authority (SWODA) to purchase a skid steer and attachments to provide to the Washita County Conservation District. J.L. “Junior” Delp, an associate director with the Washita County Conservation District represents the district on the SWODA board and added his support for the project. The district purchased a trailer to move the machine to and from sites for around $3,500.
Washita County CD was the first district to take the step, but it was a two-year process to complete. After the first project got off the ground, things started to move faster. It took only four months to complete the process for Roger Mills County Commissioners to purchase a skid steer for the Upper Washita County Conservation District which is responsible for maintenance on 174 dams. Moore helped district employees Nena Wells and Todd Goodall prepare information for a presentation to the county commission. The commissioners put in $75,000 for the machine and attachments. The district bought a trailer for $5,000.
In Custer County the process went even faster. It took only two months from initial discussion for the Custer County Commissioners to purchase a machine and attachments for the Custer County Conservation District to use in maintaining its 120 dams. Scotty Powell, district manager, helped gather information that Moore presented to the county commissioners. The track loader with the attachments that the district decided would best meet local needs totaled around $61,000. The district had access to a trailer for transporting it.
Since the REAP grant named the Washita County Conservation District as the owner of its machine, the district is not limited to use in Washita County only, but can also assist surrounding districts. In Roger Mills and Custer County, county funds were used and the machine remains property of the county; therefore, more restrictions apply. However all the districts are looking to work out reciprocal arrangements to help each other.
Moore said other conservation districts are starting to look into the feasibility of similar projects for their areas and he expects more districts will follow suit.