Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson knew the moment when the oil spill that happened in Mayflower was a bigger catastrophe than he could have ever imagined. In the first hours of attempted containment, Dodson saw crude oil moving toward a cove. He asked if it was a direct pathway to Lake Conway. The answer he got made him shudder.
“At that moment, you think of Exxon Valdez or BP in the gulf,” Dodson said. “You realize that maybe this lake, which I have used my entire life, could take decades to clean.”
While it wasn’t as bad as the other two catastrophes, the oil spill in March has been top of the priority list for Dodson, who assumed the role of county judge following the departure of Preston Scroggin. While the temporary gig would be responsibility enough, having to deal with a disaster like the oil spill has kept the former county attorney on his toes.
Dodson shared his views about the past three months during a roundtable with Log Cabin Democrat publisher Alan English, editor Ricky Duke and reporters Megan Reynolds, Lee Hogan and Hilary Dixon.
Log Cabin Democrat: Just a few months after taking over as county judge, and this falls into your lap. What were your initial feelings during those first few moments and days?
Allen Dodson: It may seem cliche, but at that time, you just have to fall back on your training. If you can think back to a time when you had to respond without thinking, it’s just your training. You know what to do, and you just do it. If you’ve got to jump off of a ledge to help someone, it’s not, “Oh, I’m scared.” You figure out where you’ve got to hit and roll just right.
LCD: What was it like in those first moments.
AD: I rolled up there, and people were sort of in a daze. There were a number of people looking at me just like you are. You have that realization that these people need to get to work. They don’t necessarily know what the coordinated attack needs to be, but they need some leadership ... and golly, that’s me. There’s that split second where the recognition hits that you have a role to fill, and you go do it. Even if you make mistakes, you have to live with it.
LCD: Who all were there initially?
AD: The thing that was comforting was there were so many people there. (Mayflower Mayor Randy) Holland and his folks, the people there from the street department, the fire department, the water department, our (Office of Emergency Management), our road department, on and on. Conway’s Hazmat team responded, Pulaski County’s Hazmat team responded. There was nowhere where anyone dropped the ball. You didn’t see any jockeying. It was controlled desperation.
LCD: Any images you remember?
AD: You would just stand beside Highway 365 and see oil that black come through a ditch. I was standing there on the side of the ditch with the smallest pittance of a boom trying to lodge it into some brush. I hate to say the image was comical, but when you realize it’s 3,500 barrels?
LCD: When did you realize how serious it was?
AD: The precise moment was when we were standing below the roadway trying to get booms on both sides of the road. I rose up and looked over the road toward the lake knowing full well the oil was on the other side of that road. I turned to (the Mayflower Fire Chief) and said, “Is that a straight shot to the lake?” I sort of knew it was, but there was a stupefying moment where you were hoping for a different answer. We were fortunate that there were two 4-foot culverts that led the ditch to the lake or we could have been in serious trouble. I’m thinking crude oil is in the lake. This is our lake, our 6,700-acre lake, and I’m thinking ... decades. All that’s running through my mind. All the people I know living on that lake. I fished on that lake.
LCD: Do you regret taking on this job now?
AD: No. I’m just thank the Lord that I haven’t messed up yet. If I mess up, you have to put it on the front page. So, I think people know me enough now to know that I’m not going to be on the take. But if I mess up now, I would hope that most people wouldn’t change their evaluation of me. They would just realize that I made a mistake. My concern is my family. I see my mom and my two sisters everyday of every year. So I can’t do anything that would bring embarrassment or shame to them. Heck, they wouldn’t even be embarrassed. They would just be hurting for me. But I haven’t messed up yet.