Sunday, January 16, 2022

Local News

Today's News

Patrick will get the news for the entire last week posted asap!

Mayor Jeff Brown
State Representative DeAnn Vaught
State Senator Larry Teague
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
US Senator John Booman
US Representative Bruce Westerman

Previously Reported

$200K in stolen Sevier County Medical Center tax revenue returned     01/07/22

DE QUEEN – Officials with the Sevier County Medical Center say the hospital has received a $200,000 sales tax collection stolen by hackers in November.

The hospital announced in December that its November sales tax collection totaling approximately $200,000 was successfully targeted by a hacker or group of hackers. These hackers reportedly claimed to be county officials to receive the November sales tax collection slated for the hospital.

When county officials identified the missing funds, they contacted the Bank of the Ozarks, which holds accounts for the hospital’s sales tax collections. The bank’s fraud division then stepped in and began an investigation.

Dr. Steve Cole, chair of the Sevier County Medical Center Board of Governors, said hacking attempts against public entities such as the hospital are an increasingly common threat in the digital world. Fortunately, he added, the money was reimbursed to the hospital.

County officials said at last month’s meeting of the Sevier County Quorum Court that security measures, including dual verification requirements, have been implemented to prevent future fraud attempts.

Supply chain issues force delay to SCMC opening, resumes still sought     01/07/22

DE QUEEN – In other hospital news, ongoing supply chain issues across the nation and globe are forcing a delay in the opening of the Sevier County Medical Center, officials announced on Thursday.

The current shortage in everything from workers to microchips has caused supply chain issues for nearly every industry and sector in the nation. Officials with De Queen’s new hospital said the new facility is no different, with the arrival of some construction materials and equipment delayed due to the supply issues.

Previously expected to open this spring, hospital officials say the date is being pushed back into the fall of this year. At this time the turnover of the building to the county is expected by Aug. 5. Once the building is turned over, hospital officials anticipate it will take around six weeks to move in furniture and equipment, as well as prep the building for its opening date. Hospital CEO Lori House said that date is set for approximately Sept. 12 of this year.

The hospital is continuing to accept resumes for all positions within the hospital. The board is currently operating a small team of administers but plans to increase the hospital’s workforce as the opening date nears. House said anyone interested in joining the hospital’s staff is asked to send their resumes to apply@seviercountymedical.com. House said the hiring timeline will quicken in pace during late spring and into summer, with many more positions set to be filled as the September opening date approaches.

Local COVID cases continue to see spike, UAC to reimplement mask requirement     01/07/22

DE QUEEN – Southwest Arkansas continuing to see a surge in new and active COVID-19 cases as the omicron variant continues to spread across both the state and nation, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Several area counties have seen their active caseload more than double over the past week.

As of Thursday afternoon, Sevier County was reporting 123 active cases – a net increase of 60 from this past Monday.

Little River County is reporting 124 active cases currently. That’s also an increase of 60 since in just the past four days.

In Howard County, active cases currently total 181 – a net increase of 83 since the beginning of the week.

Finally, Polk County is reporting 116 currently, an increase of 67 from this past Monday.

Across Arkansas, the Department of Health is continuing to report some of the highest single-day increase in new cases since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. Thursday saw another consecutive day of record new cases in Arkansas, with nearly 7,800 more added in a single day. Active cases in the state are also at their highest level ever. Thursday’s active cases increased by 6,000 to more than 44,000 currently detected across Arkansas.

Hospitalizations are also increasing in pace with 73 additional Arkansans hospitalized yesterday due to COVID-19. In total nearly 900 Arkansans are currently hospitalized due to the virus.

In response to the case increase both locally and across the state, UA Cossatot will begin again requiring masks for everyone on their campuses. This includes staff, faculty, students and all visitors.

The Hope School District announced Thursday it would close its campuses to in-person learning for the remainder of the week. In-person instruction will resume in Hope on Monday, Jan. 10, the district reported.

De Queen Public Schools announced on its Facebook page on Thursday that the district has no plans at this time to end in-person instruction. The press release stated a complete transition to virtual learning will only occur in an absolute emergency or if staffing issues occur at the building level.

District officials are nonetheless preparing for a possible transition to alternative learning methods due to the sharp rise in COVID cases locally. This includes asking instructors to have at least five days of instructional materials on hand. The district stressed this is only to be prepared for a possible school closure, which the district said is not needed at this time.

The district is also encouraging its students and families to follow Arkansas Department of Health guidelines to help keep them safe. Families with questions about COVID-19 vaccines should contact their primary care physician for guidance. The district’s on-site Leopard Care Clinic has vaccines available for all students five and up. The clinic can be reached by calling (870) 642-5488.

UAEX relaunching “Grow Your Own Groceries” series in 2022     01/07/22

The Cooperative Extension Service’s series of “Grow Your Own Groceries” online presentations will continue in 2022. The virtual classes connect Arkansans with agents’ expertise in growing, preparing, and preserving fruits and vegetables at home.

During the last program year from October 2020 through September 2021, “Grow Your Own Groceries” hosted 21 live Zoom sessions, with over 8,500 registrants for the classes. Each registrant received an email following the program with a link to watch the recorded program and access to fact sheets and recipes. Many people opted to watch the recorded program rather than the live program.

The program provides information for gardeners of all types, skill levels, and with varying access to resources.

In each one-hour presentation, an agriculture agent or specialist will discuss the crop: how to select the right variety, how to grow it, and how to deal with common pests and problems. Then, a family and consumer science agent will discuss nutrition and food preservation and provide a cooking demonstration.

The first “Grow Your Own Groceries” class of 2022 will take place at noon on Thursday, Jan. 13, and the topic will be microgreens.

While all dates and topics for this year’s series have not been finalized, Quinn said the classes will continue to focus primarily on single crops, with occasional presentations on more general topics. This year the program hopes to offer a “Getting Started with Vegetable Gardening” session for beginners.

To register for the Grow Your Own Groceries: Microgreens presentation and get information about upcoming classes, visit https://www.uaex.uada.edu/grow-groceries.

Sevier County Extension shares information on freeze damage to winter forage     01/07/22

Submitted by Sevier County Extension Office

The sudden freeze last weekend following spring-like weather has caused yellowing in many winter annual pastures. Some points to keep in mind as you help producers evaluate freeze damage over the next several days include the following:

  1. Soil moisture helps:Freeze damage to forages is often greater in very dry soils than in moist soils. Moisture tends to retain heat which keeps soil surface temperatures warmer. Fortunately, most of the state received rain before the freeze event which should reduce damage to pastures.
  2. It may only be frost burn:Fescue, wheat, cereal rye, and annual ryegrass are cold tolerant, but recent growth during the warm temperatures will be more susceptible to freeze damage. Most of the yellowing showing up now is likely just frost burn of the tender leaves. To help producers evaluate stands, check the plant crowns at the soil surface. If the crowns are still green and firm, the plants should survive and provide spring grazing. The frost burn will stall plant growth of course, but these forage species will likely survive. Frost damaged topgrowth can be grazed to salvage the forage, but be careful with grazing immediately after a hard freeze because hoof traffic during or shortly after the freeze will increase damage.
  3. The sudden freeze last weekend following spring-like weather has caused yellowing in many winter annual pastures.

 

 

City of De Queen eyes several projects in 2022     01/06/22

DE QUEEN – The City of De Queen is launching into the new year with a number of projects and goals in mind.

Last month, the council approved a $10.3 million budget with funds set aside for some improvement projects around town. That includes $60,000 for a new tennis court at Herman Dierks Park. The two existing tennis courts are also set for resurfacing as well as the addition of pickleball striping. Mayor Jeff Brown said the pickleball strips will be added due to growing interest in the game, not just nationally but among residents of De Queen as well.

City officials are particularly excited about a project to construct an attractive outdoor space on the site of the former Ennis Building next to city hall. That building was purchased by the city in 2017 and then torn down in 2021. Mayor Brown said the site will be used to include a covered pavilion, picnic tables and other amenities for the public to use. In addition the space will be the new location of the Sevier County Farmers Market.

The city is also receiving $300,000 in state assistance for the 2022 street program. Brown said streets scheduled for repaving this year include Fourth Street from Wilkerson to the Railroad Tracks, and the entire length of Coulter Drive.

The city is also receiving several new positions this year, including a bilingual office worker for city hall and a full time groundskeeper for Redmen Cemetery. The city council agreed to fund a new firefighter position during a meeting earlier in 2021. That position has been filled by Jace Sims, previously a volunteer with the De Queen Fire Department who had graduated from the fire academy.

The city is currently accepting applications for another full-time firefighter. This position would work during the second shift, from 4 p.m. to midnight, and assist with code enforcement issues within the city as well as responding to emergency situations in the area.

Unlike many other government entities, the City of De Queen passed through 2021 without any budgetary crises and Brown expects none this year, in part to a rather conservative 2022 budget. Brown said the key to a financial sound city is solid employees and strong sales tax collections. That, he stressed, is only made possible by city residents dedicated to shopping locally.

Brown addressed one project slated for completion last year but which is now on a temporary hold due to ongoing supply chain issues. That is the splash pad at Herman Dierks Park. Brown said people will notice materials accumulating at the site of the splash pad but that some components have still not arrived.

The city hopes to have the splash pad completed this year. The nearly half-million dollar project is being funded almost entirely through a donation from Pilgrim’s.

DQTV, KDQN partner to bring career training and opportunities through Leopard sports broadcasts     01/06/22

DE QUEEN – ACDe Queen Public Schools is announcing a newly formed partnership between DQTV and us here at KDQN that will create work-based learning opportunities for DQTV students while providing Leopard fans with live streaming coverage of select Leopard sporting events.

DQTV and KDQN teamed up for the 2021 Leopard Football season to provide live-streaming coverage complete with play-by-play for games on the road. The new partnership will allow fans to enjoy live-streaming coverage for select Leopard and Lady Leopard basketball games for the remainder of the 2021-2022 season and select sporting events in the spring.

KDQN has a rich tradition spanning decades of bringing Leopard fans exciting play-by-play and complete coverage of Leopard sporting events through radio broadcasts. By combining resources, KDQN and DQTV will be able to expand that tradition of coverage to a newer media platform on DQTV’s Youtube channel while continuing to provide the traditional radio broadcast on 92.1 FM.

Athletic Director Lance Pinkerton said this partnership is a great addition to the Leopard Family. Leopard Alumni and any other followers of Leopard Athletics will have the opportunity to watch games, no matter where they are. Another added bonus is that it creates an open door for students to gain valuable experience and a possible career in radio/media broadcasting.

Through grants from the Arkansas Broadcaster’s Association, KDQN is providing internships for DQTV students that will provide excellent learning opportunities for students while growing the next generation of Arkansas broadcasters.

KDQN’s Voice of the Leopards Jay Bunyard said this is a wonderful win-win opportunity for deserving and aspiring DQTV students to enhance their knowledge of broadcasting through ABA Internships as they help KDQN provide sports coverage for Leopard fans. Following impressive championships in the Genoa Holiday Classic, fan interest in the Leopard and Lady Leopard basketball programs is at an all-time high. By combining KDQN’s play-by-play audio with online streaming video for select games, fans unable to attend in person can enjoy the complete coverage through their home computer or mobile device. We at KDQN are pleased and honored to partner with De Queen Public Schools on another worthwhile project.”

Leopard fans can enjoy the DQTV Livestream by subscribing to DQTV’s Youtube Channel linked here, or by following the DQTV links located on www.kdqn.net or www.dequeenleopards.org.

The streaming schedule begins Tuesday, Jan. 11 with the Leopards and Lady Leopards games against Nashville. Then it’s Bauxite on Jan. 14, Arkadelphia on Jan. 21, Hope on Jan. 25, Nashville again on Feb. 1 and Fountain Lake on Feb. 4.

 

Today’s pre-trial hearing for rape suspect rescheduled     01/06/22

DE QUEEN – A pre-trial hearing scheduled for today for a Sevier County man facing a felony rape charge has been reset for next month.

According to online court records, a continuance was granted on Wednesday in the case against 64-year-old Dennis Hale, who has been charged with rape for an alleged 2021 incidence involving a juvenile. Bond was set at $250,000 and a no-contact order established following Hale’s initial court appearance.

Hale was scheduled to appear in court today for a pre-trial hearing but Wednesday’s continuance reschedules that hearing to Feb. 24. If he maintains his plea of not guilty, Hale is set to appear before a jury on March 16.

According to the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, Investigator Brian Hankins received information from the Arkansas State Police Hotline in September of 2021 regarding a juvenile in Sevier County who was sexually assaulted.

That information allowed officers to obtain a search warrant on the home of Hale, who was named as the suspect. Officers of the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, the Arkansas State Police and the Ninth West Judicial Task Force conducted the search warrant.

Hale is facing a single count of rape, a Class Y felony that, upon conviction, can carry a sentence of 10-40 years in prison. He was also charged with one count of manufacturing a controlled substance following the investigation and his subsequent arrest.

 

AGFC seeking Arkansas high school internship applications for fisheries program     01/06/22

Two Arkansas high school students will have the opportunity for eight-week internships with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Fisheries Division this summer. Each of the American Fisheries Society Hutton Scholar interns who are chosen by a selection committee will be paid and the students will have AGFC biologists providing mentorship for the summer.

It could also be the start of a lifetime of work in the field of outdoors conservation and study in the world of fisheries for someone from traditionally underrepresented groups in fisheries science and management.

The program is a partnership between the American Fisheries Society, with its Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program, and the AGFC, which will fund the two internships at a cost of $5,000 each. The AFS counts 39 AGFC Fisheries biologists among its certified members.

The deadline for applying is approaching quickly, he noted. The application period began Dec. 15 and will close on Feb. 14.

By far most Hutton Scholar alumni in the past decade attribute their internship to increasing their interest in fisheries, aquatics or environmental science studies and careers.

The Junior Fisheries Program is a summerlong, hands-on education experience designed primarily for minority high school students and female students. Students recruited by the AGFC for the program will be reviewed and selected by the Hutton Review and Selection Committee. Their internship will run from June 1-Sept. 1.

To apply for the student internship, visit https://hutton.fisheries.org.

 

2022 is election year: Sevier County voters have local and district races to decide     01/05/22

DE QUEEN – Sevier County election officials are informing the public of information and upcoming dates for this year’s primary and general elections.

Sevier County voters are expected to have at least two races to decide this year. This includes the election of the Ninth West Judicial District prosecutor. Currently both Mickey Buchanan of Ashdown and Jana Bradford of Glenwood have announced their candidacies for this position.

Sevier County voters will also have a race to decide for the position of Sevier County Clerk. Debbie Akin, who currently holds the office, is not seeking reelection. Currently, Jeff Wahls and Renea Bailey have both announced their intentions to seek election to this office.

Wahls is an investigator with the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office and Bailey is a deputy payroll clerk in the county clerk’s office.

The first date to circulate petitions was Dec. 1 and that process continues for candidates wishing to file for elected positions in Sevier County in 2022.

The party filing period begins at 12 noon on Feb. 22 and will end at 12 noon on March 1. The nonpartisan filing period is held during this period as well except the deadline is 3 p.m. on March 1. This filing period is for all candidates except municipal candidates who will file between noon on Aug. 3 and noon on Aug. 10. The first date for municipal candidates to circulate petitions in May 4.

Early voting for the primary election is scheduled from May 9 to May 23from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Early voting ends at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 23. The primary election will be held May 24.

The deadline to register to vote in the primary election is Monday, April 25. The deadline to transfer registration information from another county is Friday, May 20.

Photo identification will be required from all voters in the upcoming elections.

Voting centers will be open on election day at the De Queen Church of Christ, De Queen Community Building, De Queen-Mena Educational Cooperative in Gillham, Lockesburg Methodist Church, the Ben Lomond Community Center and the J.L. Walker Fellowship Hall in Horatio.

The sole location for early voting in this year’s elections is the De Queen Community building.

Anyone with questions about the upcoming elections, or for those interested in becoming an election work, call the Sevier County Clerk’s Office at (870) 642-2852.

 

Jeff Wahls announces candidacy for Sevier County Clerk     01/05/22

Jeff Wahls

DE QUEEN – Jeff Wahls has announced his intention to seek the office of Sevier County Clerk in this year’s election. The following is his announcement:

Election Day is drawing near for Sevier County, AR voters. There’s been a tremendous amount of growth taking place in our community, making this a high-stakes election year for everyone. No pressure, though. Sevier county is ready for even more positive change.

One of the best ways to ensure our citizens get to experience continuous progress is to develop and implement effective strategies to give our county the management and support it deserves. This begins with choosing a strong leader as County Clerk. Jeff Wahls is confident he can be that leader.

Jeff has worn many hats in our community, collectively working for 23 years in various capacities. Some of you may know him from his days as a patrolman. In 1998, former Sheriff John Partain offered him the position after Jeff moved to the area from his native state of Illinois.

In 2008, Sheriff Partain promoted Wahls to sergeant, where he gained experience working civil process and court security. During his role as a sergeant, he also served as a safety educator and was senior operator over the BAC instrument used to test for alcohol intoxication. In 2012, under the direction of former Sheriff Benny Simmons, Wahls became an investigator, and still holds that position today.

His success and dedication have not gone unnoticed. He has twice been named Sevier County Deputy of the Year, once in 2001 and again in 2010. He received a Letter of Commendation from the Army Corps of Engineers and a Good Conduct Medal for handling an extremely strenuous workload during an undercover investigation.

When Wahls wasn’t fighting crime in his early years as a civil servant, he was busy mentoring young people. He coached summer league community pee wee sports for 10 years, and youth football for 4 years.

He worked for Bloomington Normal Seating Company as a line lead for 10 years, and went to Mitsubishi in Japan on a pattern development team to reduce Carpal Tunnel Syndrome because of his managerial skill and versatility as a leader.

Wahls firmly believes that every elected official should be in charge of their own budget.

“When elected officials look at their budgets, their line items should be true and accurate. Under my direction as County Clerk, monthly audits will be performed”, Wahls stated. “My goal is not to exercise control over other elected officials, but to empower them to make wise decisions pertaining to their roles,” he continued. “This will ensure more fluid functioning across all organizational levels which will save time and allocate resources more efficiently.”

His other priorities include obtaining better health insurance and benefits for county employees. He will strive to obtain more affordable family insurance with better options for families of county employees, as well.

Jeff has been a staple in Sevier County for over two decades, and looks forward to serving you further, as he is the people’s no-nonsense choice for County Clerk.

Renea Bailey announces candidacy for Sevier County Clerk     01/05/22

DE QUEEN – Renea Bailey has announced her intention to seek the office of Sevier County Clerk in this year’s election. The following is her announcement:

Dear Sevier County Citizens,

I, Renea Bailey am excited to re-announce that I will be running for the position of Sevier County Clerk in the 2022 Election, as a Republican Candidate.

I have been an employee of the Sevier County Courthouse for 4 years as the Deputy County Payroll Clerk. For the past 4 years, I have pushed myself to learn the majority of all roles in the County Clerk’s Office. I have 15 years of work experience in Human Resources, Management, Accounting, and Clerical Positions.

I was born and raised in Sevier County. I am happily married and blessed with 2 wonderful children.

If elected Sevier County Clerk, I will work diligently with all elected officials and county employees. I will continue to improve the county process through new technology. I will continue to work with the County Judge to offer County Employees the best insurance/benefits at the best cost to the citizens of the county. I will also continue to work with the Quorum Court/Budget Committee in the role of the secretariat as they set budgets for every county official and office.

I ask the citizens of Sevier County to Vote for Experience. I will be available to the citizens of Sevier County at all times.

I can be reached by email at reneabailey@gmail.com or cell phone (870)-279-1294.

Citizens can also follow my campaign updates on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/reneabaileyforseviercountyclerk

De Queen City Council holds first meeting of 2022, approves contract and meeting change     01/05/22

The De Queen City Council gathered for its first meeting of 2022 Tuesday evening to address a number of items for the start of the new year.

That included one approved resolution bringing a change to future city council meetings. Previously, city council meetings were held twice a month. Following Tuesday night’s session, future city council meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of the month only, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the De Queen City Hall. These meetings are entirely open to the public.

In other business, the city council approved a number of routine, annual contracts with entities within the city limits. That includes a $2,500 contract for the Sevier County Humane Society. City officials cited the importance of the humane society in re-homing stray dogs within the city.

A contract for $5,000 was approved with the Sevier County Historical Society for its mission to preserve local history.

A $10,0000 contract was also approved with Daniel Boone Ministries, which administers the De Queen Senior Citizens Center. The resolution also waives the rent for the city-owned building in which the senior center is housed. City officials again cited the importance of the senior citizens center in De Queen for the services, meals and fellowship it offers to local senior citizens.

The final item on the agenda was the approval of the purchase of a house located behind city hall for future expansion. The house was purchased for approximately $60,000.

The city council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the De Queen City Hall.

 

Arkansas marks highest-ever single-day growth in COVID cases on Tuesday     01/05/22

The surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues in Arkansas with state health officials reporting the highest ever single-day case increase on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s new cases surpass the prior record increase reported just last week. Previously, new cases were on the decline in Arkansas with the last spike occurring over the summer of 2021.

In all, the Arkansas Department of Health recorded more than 6,500 new cases between Monday and Tuesday. Active cases also saw their highest single-day increase, rising by 5,100 to over 32,000 detected active cases in Arkansas. The current active caseload is also the highest ever seen in Arkansas.

Arkansas’ positivity rate – which measures the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive – also hit a new high of 25 percent on Tuesday.

During his weekly press conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said these figures suggest the pandemic is at its worst stage yet in Arkansas.

Hutchinson said he is not, however, considering a return of the emergency health declaration issued during the beginning of the pandemic. Nor is he eyeing a return of emergency powers which would allow him to implement executive orders such as mask requirements or other statewide mandates.

State officials are preparing for another possible surge in hospitalizations. Hutchinson said that, while omicron appears to be a less severe form of the virus, the high number of new cases may nonetheless drive an increase in hospitalizations.

Deaths rose on Tuesday by 27 to 9,248 since the spring of 2020. Over the same period hospitalizations rose by 53 to leave 775 Arkansans currently hospitalized due to the virus. In total nearly 30,000 Arkansans have been hospitalized by COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

As of Tuesday, more than 1.5 million Arkansans are fully vaccinated.

 

Center for Arkansas Farms and Food launching 2022 courses      01/05/22

The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food will present a new round of Beginning Farmer Classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 11 to March 1.

The 2022 Beginning Farmer Classes have been redesigned to highlight the practices of successful farmers and offer learning activities with information from local service providers and regional farmers.

“Even if you’ve taken the course before, you can expect new knowledge and insights,” said Heather Friedrich, program manager for the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food.

CAFF was created to help increase the number of farms and farmers in Arkansas. The goals of the center are centered on supporting a regional food system by connecting to established farms and training the next generation of farmers. CAFF is a center of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Each course costs $10 and will be presented via Zoom. Class times are 6-8:30 p.m. except for the first session, “Farming as a Profession,” which will be 7-8:30 p.m. on Jan. 11.

To register, visit http://farmandfoodsystem.uada.edu.classes/

 

Rep. Westerman eyes bill for new campground at or near Albert Pike    01/04/22

LANGLEY – Congressional support may arrive for those hoping to see the reestablishment of overnight camping at Albert Pike Recreation Area.

According to The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) said he plans to submit legislation to establish a campground within Albert Pike or nearby.

The Albert Pike Recreation Area is a federal campground near Langley and located along the Little Missouri River within the Ouachita National Forest. The campground has been closed to overnight camping and lingered largely unmaintained since June 10, 2010, when a devastating 500-year flood claimed the lives of 20 people camping in the park. Previously the park had been a very popular outdoor area for campers far and wide.

A 2013 court injunction prevented the United States Forest Service (USFS) from any further construction projects within the park. A civil lawsuit filed against the Forest Service in 2011 by survivors of the flood was settled in 2018.

Last month, the USFS announced it would not reestablish overnight use of the park. The decision was made following a years-long public comment and review process.

Forest Service officials said the recreation area will remain as a day-use only facility, with no overnight camping or long-term use options permitted. Infrastructure will be decommissioned in some areas and be allowed to return to natural conditions, the notice stated. Other changes include reusing Loop D to provide Day Use parking facilities. Loops are smaller camping spots within a campground.

“The decision provides a safe, well-maintained facility with year-round sustainable Day-Use recreation opportunities including swimming, picnicking, and fishing,” said Caddo-Womble District Ranger, Amanda Gee, in a press release.

According to reporting from the Democrat-Gazette, Westerman understood the Forest Service’s “overly cautious” decision but was disappointed the agency would continue to prevent overnight use of the park. He said camping could be reestablished in areas of the park not prone to flash flooding.

Westerman told the publication his office plans to research the idea of a new campground either within Albert Pike or near its established boundaries. He added funding for the new park could be appropriated through the Great American Outdoors Act or through other federal measures.

The recreation area is within Westerman’s congressional district.

 

2021 a year of wild weather in Southwest Arkansas     01/04/22

DE QUEEN – From winter storms to balmy December mornings, Sevier County’s weather in 2021 was an interesting array of extremes.

December in particular saw some significant shifts in local weather, from a low of 25 degrees on the 12th and 13th to an 81-degree high on Christmas Day. There was certainly no white Christmas for Arkansas with many towns in the southern half of the state breaking their all-time records in 2021 for the hottest Christmas Day. And that most likely includes us here in Southwest Arkansas as well. In all we saw just shy of 1.9 inches of rain in December.

Looking at 2021 as a whole, the hottest days weren’t too bad with the mercury staying below the three-digit mark all year. The hottest days reached 97 degrees on June 12, Aug. 13 and Sept. 2. The coldest mornings of last year were negative five on Feb. 16-17 – again, very likely among the coldest days for our area in recorded history. Feb. 15-18 saw more than nine inches of snow fall, shutting down much of the Southwest Arkansas for the week.

Precipitation totaled around the yearly average with 58.4 inches throughout 2021. The wettest month was May with just over 10 inches of rain.

Stay tuned to Your Number One Country throughout the year for accurate and timely weather updates to see what 2022 has in store for us.

 

CWD confirmed in four more Arkansas counties     01/04/22

State biologists are confirming the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in four more Arkansas counties.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced on Friday it had received positive samples from Randolph County in Northeast Arkansas as well as first-ever cases in Crawford, Franklin and Van Burean Counties. These three counties, located in Northwest Arkansas, were already included in the Chronic Wasting Disease management zone but had not previously confirmed the presence of CWD.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, caribou, and moose. It was first detected in Arkansas Feb. 23, 2016. Since the first detection, AGFC has tested more than 40,670 deer and elk from across the state. To date, 1,260 deer and 38 elk have tested positive for the disease in Arkansas. Infected animals begin to lose weight, lose their appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They may separate from their herds, walk in repetitive patterns, carry their head low, salivate, urinate frequently and grind their teeth.

Friday’s announcement comes just weeks after a positive case was confirmed in Union County – the first-ever case detected in South Arkansas.

In keeping with the AGFC’s CWD Management and Response Plan, there will be no changes to deer-hunting regulations for the remainder of the 2021-22 deer hunting season.

The AGFC said it will evaluate the need for any expansion of the CWD Management Zone and regulations concerning deer hunting during the hunting regulations-setting process once the season is over.

Hunters who wish to have their deer tested for CWD can voluntarily take the head of the deer, with 6 inches of neck still attached, to one of the AGFC’s network of participating taxidermists to have a sample tested for free.

They also may drop off the head at one of dozens of CWD-testing collection stations positioned throughout the state, including in Dierks, De Queen and Ashdown. A full list of CWD-testing facilities is available at www.agfc.com/cwd. Local landowners near Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge also may contact the AGFC to participate in surveillance efforts in the area. For more information, call 501-412-5434. Those who submit a sample, whether positive or not, will be entered into a drawing for one of two lifetime Arkansas fishing and hunting licenses.

Visit www.agfc.com/cwd for more information.

 

Portion of Chapel Hill Road to be closed for bridge replacement     01/04/22

DE QUEEN – Starting next Monday, Jan. 10, and until further notice, a section of the southeast end of Chapel Hill Road will be closed for the replacement of a bridge. The portion of Chapel Hill Road to be closed is approximately one-quarter mile west of the intersection of Chapel Hill Road and Dog Town Road. County officials say the road will be closed until further notice and the bridge replacement is complete.

2022 Mini, Little Miss and Mr. DHS pageants set for Jan. 29     01/04/22

DE QUEEN – The De Queen High School Sophomore Class is again sponsoring this year’s annual Mini, Little Miss and Mr. DHS Pageant.

The pageant is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 29 beginning at 6 p.m. in the De Queen High School auditorium. The deadline for entries is Wednesday, Jan. 12. Forms have been sent home with students and can also be downloaded at bit.ly/dhspageant.

Entry fee is $25.

 

Active COVID cases experiencing spike in Southwest Arkansas       01/03/22

DE QUEEN – Southwest Arkansas is experiencing a surge in new and active COVID-19 cases as the omicron variant continues to spread across the state and nation, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Several area counties have seen their active caseload more than double over the past week.

Currently, Sevier County is reporting 62 active cases – a net increase of 26 from last Monday. Total cases rose to 4,254 since spring of 2020. Deaths saw no increase last week and remain at 63.

Little River County is reporting 64 active cases currently. That’s an increase of 47 since last Monday. Total cases number 2,218. The department of health reported no additional deaths in Little River County last week and that figure remains at 84.

In Howard County, active cases currently total 98 – a net increase of 73 from last week. Cumulative cases number 2,624. Deaths remain at 39.

Finally, Polk County is reporting 49 active cases at this time, an increase of 34 from last Monday. Deaths increased by nine in Polk County last week for a current total of 129.

Across Arkansas, the Department of Health is continuing to report some of the highest single-day increase in new cases since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. On Sunday, the state reported nearly 2,200 new cases for a total of almost 573,000 since spring of 2020. Last Thursday health officials in Arkansas recorded nearly 5,000 new cases over a 24-hour period. That marked the highest one-day increase in Arkansas since the emergence of COVID-19.

On Sunday, the state also added 1,400 new active cases for a total of more than 26,000 currently detected. Deaths rose by 16 yesterday for a total of 9,196 since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations rose by 38 over the same period for a total of 683 Arkansans currently hospitalized due to the virus.

As part of the state’s effort against the surge of omicron cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that the state is seeking 1.5 million at-home COVID-19 tests through the federal government. These tests would be free and available at public locations throughout Arkansas communities.

Regular PCR and antigen tests remain in adequate supply in Arkansas.

The state is also sharing updated COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidelines. Anyone who tests positive for the virus should isolate themselves for a minimum of five days. Following those five days, and if no symptoms are present, the individual is able to leave isolation. If fever persists, the individual should continue to isolate until at least 24 hours after their fever is resolved.

Quarantine guidelines for those exposed to a COVID-positive individual include staying home for five days if the individual is not fully vaccinated and boosted. Quarantine guidelines are much more relaxed for individuals who have been exposed but are fully vaccinated and boosted.

 

Keaster facing additional charges in Pike County for church burglary     01/03/22

GLENWOOD – A Dierks man currently held in the Sevier County Jail on charges of assaulting a law enforcement officer and aggravated robbery is also facing felony charges in Pike County.

According to online court records, 39-year-old Justin Keaster has been charged in Pike County for felony counts of commercial burglary and theft of property. Investigators believe Keaster was behind a burglary that took place at the Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Glenwood on Dec. 15, the same day he allegedly led officers from multiple law enforcement agencies on a six-hour manhunt. Two laptops and a set of keys were reportedly stolen from the church. Using GPS technology within the ARDoT truck Keaster is believed to have stolen earlier that morning, investigators allege Keaster was at the church around five that morning.

Keaster was arrested that same day following a manhunt around Dierks Lake. Authorities allege Keaster fled from police in the stolen ARDoT truck before ambushing a Sevier County investigator, stealing his service pistol and patrol vehicle. The patrol vehicle was later found wrecked and abandoned in an area around Jefferson Ridge on Dierks Lake. The investigator was injured during the altercation but not by gun fire. He has since fully recovered.

Keaster was later found and arrested by members of the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office. A number of other area law enforcement agencies were involved in the search, which included the use of dogs, drones and horses to find Keaster.

Keaster is currently in the Sevier County Jail awaiting his next court appearance, scheduled for Jan. 13.

 

New year brings new tax changes in Arkansas     01/03/22

From reducing income tax to lowering the sales tax on used cars, there are several pieces of tax legislation passed in 2021 took effect Jan. 1.

In a special session held late last year, the Arkansas House and Senate passed identical pieces of legislation that reduce the top income tax rate for individuals from 5.9 percent to 4.9 percent incrementally over the next four years. For the tax year beginning on January 1, 2022, the top rate is reduced to 5.5 percent. The legislation also provides a $60 non-refundable tax credit for individuals with an income of less than $24,700.

In the 2021 Regular Session, the General Assembly passed the following tax measures, which will take effect at the beginning of next year:

-ACT 841 creates an income tax credit for retired law enforcement officers who work on behalf of the Division of Arkansas State Police to investigate cold cases.

-ACT 376 reduces the additional registration fee for a hybrid vehicle from $100 to $50.00.

-Act 1013 reduces the sales tax from 6.5% to 3.5% on used cars priced from $4,000-$10,000. Vehicles priced below $4,000 are already exempt from state sales tax. However, the rate drop does not impact collections of city and county sales taxes. The average price for used vehicles purchased last year in Arkansas was around $13,000.

-ACT 765 creates the Law Enforcement Family Relief Check-off Program, which allows an individual taxpayer to designate some or all of the taxpayer’s income tax refund to the program, which assists the family of an Arkansas-certified law enforcement officer who was killed in the line of duty or diagnosed by a medical professional with a terminal illness.

 

Rep. Vaught update: Start of the 2022 Fiscal Session     01/03/22

By State Rep. DeAnn Vaught

The Arkansas General Assembly will convene for the 2022 Fiscal Session on Monday, February 14.

Preparations for that session will begin in the next two weeks.

Beginning January 11, the Joint Budget Committee will hold a series of meetings designed to begin the process of outlining a budget for the next fiscal year.

Budget hearings will begin with the Department of Finance and Administration presenting its annual forecast and recommendations for a balanced budget by the Governor.

The last general revenue report released showed revenue was up three percent from the same time last year.

Over the course of the budget hearings, the committee will hear budget requests for all state boards, commissions, and agencies. The hearings will continue through January 20.

Members can begin pre-filing appropriation bills on Monday, January 10.

Fiscal Sessions began after Arkansas voters approved what would become Amendment 86 in 2008.

Amendment 86 reduced the period for which appropriation bills are valid from two fiscal years to one, requiring the General Assembly to meet in a fiscal session during even-numbered years, with deliberations limited to action on appropriation bills.

Amendment 86 states that each fiscal session shall not exceed 30 days. The fiscal session may be extended one time, however, for no more than 15 days, by a ¾ vote of both the House and Senate.

The deadline for filing both appropriation bills and non-appropriation bills is Monday, February 28.

You can watch find the daily agendas and watch the meetings live at www.arkansashouse.org.