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story.lead_photo.caption Tommy Caler, grader operator with Washington County’s Road Department, operates Tuesday a backhoe near the top of the haul road for the Winslow Dirt Pit off of U.S. 71 in Winslow. The department is building the road near 18264 U.S. 71 to have access to the pit. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE — Washington County’s Road Department soon will haul dirt from a pit near Winslow to fix rural roads.

“It’s such a good thing for south Washington County,” said Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison, a Democrat from Winslow. The pit is in her district.

Crews have begun clearing the site, building a retention pond and finishing a road to the dirt pit at 18264 U.S. 71, said Charles Ward, Road Department superintendent. The material will be used to build up roads in southern Washington County, Harbison said.

A map showing Washington County mines.

Harbison said Tuesday she hopes to see dirt coming out of the mine in the next two weeks.

The project is expected to save the county money, Road Department officials have said.

There are no other red dirt mines in that area, so the county will save money by hauling dirt shorter distances, saving on vehicle maintenance and employees driving time, officials say.

But, Justice of the Peace Tom Lundstrum said he isn’t so sure about the actual cost versus savings for the pit. Lundstrum is a Republican who represents northwestern Washington County.

County Attorney Brian Lester said in email he didn’t know how much the mine would save the county. The Road Department estimated last year it could save $30,000 annually.

The county previously spent at least $27,000 building a road to the pit, Lund-strum said. The county will pay $4 per yard for dirt rather than $3.50 agreed to under the original contract, records show.

That means a truck that holds 10 yards of dirt cost $40 per load. The Road Department previously estimated using about 1,000 truckloads of dirt from the pit per year.

“By the time we pay for the road and everything on (the pit) I’m not sure we’ll be saving money at all,” Lundstrum said.

The county pays $4 a yard for red dirt from elsewhere, Lester said. The amount is fair, he said.

Road Department employees started building a road to the pit in February 2016 without the required Quorum Court approval. Approval was required because the property belonged to a Road Department employee’s family members.

Former County Judge Marilyn Edwards signed the contract with Paul Allen Reed, property owner, on Aug. 11, 2016, records show. Reed died in June.

Two underage children inherited the property, Lester said.

The Washington County Circuit Court probate division approved the new contract with Reed’s estate Aug. 28.

About the same time, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality approved the mine, after an eight-month process.

The state agency required a plan to handle concerns about runoff from a creek on the property flowing into the West Fork of the White River, according to state agency records.

Scarlet Sims can be reached by email at ssims@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAScarlets.

Print Headline: Winslow dirt pit gets final OK

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