Thursday, March 12, 2009

Whose ducks these are, I think I know

My sincere apologies to Robert Frost for stealing and adapting that line. It is among my favorites.

Please click on images to ENLARGE view of ducks (first photo) whose pond was being dug out when the trackhoe sank into the silt-filled pond, (second) photo of burnt Beverly Apartments and (third) photo of trackhoe that sank into at least half-century-old pond at intersection of South University and West Center Street.

I sincerely hope that someone with knowledge of the origin of the Beverly Manor Apartments and the tradition of harboring a flock of ducks there will comment on this thread. Or, wanting more intense local publicity for what truly has to be an interesting story, the person who remembers best may want to share it with a newspaper reporter. Until we get better testimony, I'll share what I remember.
I believe those ducks were there in the summer of 1966 when I was an English instructor at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah and spent the summer taking courses from English professors at the University of Arkansas in the hope of completing a doctorate in English. I shared an apartment near the Beverly Manor with a fellow English graduate student who also taught at NSU: Dr. Jim Barnes, now best known as Oklahoma's poet laureate.
Regardless of any other facts, it is a fact that I cannot remember when there were no ducks on that pond.
My recollection is that at first there were muskovy ducks and such and I am not sure there were any ducks that appeared to be mallards until later. Maybe there always were. But the percentage of mallards later increased and now appears to have waned.
I believe that wild mallards found that "safe haven" in Fayetteville years ago and a few spent winters with the domestic ducks there and stayed late enough in winter to add their genes to the gene pool of the ducks on that pond. Ducks born on that pond fly away but the only ones likely to migrate north to traditional duck-breeding grounds were the migrants that happened to find the pond in winter.
That is all speculation based on vague memory. So, someone please tell us something more accurate.
ONE THING I am sure of:
That pond was pretty deep in past decades and it was silted in by decades of construction on the campus and between Center Street and the UA campus. Anyone who has driven past that pond and paused to look at the ducks there hundreds of times over more than 40 years could tell you that the silt has risen to form "gravel bars" and islands and to reduce the amount of open water for the ducks.
And anyone who has seen that happen ought to have been able to tell whoever decided to do the ducks a favor and dredge the pond that gathering volunteers with shovels would be the best way to get the job done safely in a few days. Any vehicle could obviously be expected to sink there. And trackhoes are more than a bit heavy. They are monsters of the midway.
But, in our NASCAR and Monster Truck society, big machines are assumed to be necessary no matter how small the job. The city can't dig a foot-wide trench to bury an 8-inch-diameter sewer or water line without a million-dollar machine ripping up a 50-foot-wide right of way.
But I wasn't asked for advice. And, apparently, no one with common sense was asked for advice. Somebody just rented that huge trackhoe and drove it into a tiny pond whose history he didn't know.
I am sorry for the mixed-breed ducks who were scattered all over the place by the explosion of the gas line reportedly hit by the trackhoe and I am sorry for those whose lives were put at risk and whose personal belongings were destroyed by the fire. But whoever drove the trackhoe in there should have known to call to have utility lines marked ahead of time and should have studied the history of the pond before cranking up the machine. But the operator probably assumed the boss had done the homework.
Reminds me of an old newspaper copy editor's sayin that goes something like "Assume nothing, trust no one."
The city needs to require a special license for anyone using any heavy machinery in Fayetteville. That could save a lot of lives and protect a lot of wildlife habitat.

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Investigators Eye Dredging Crew In Apartment Explosion
By Charles Huggins
FAYETTEVILLE -- Investigators are trying to determine if a dredging crew adhered to proper legal procedures following a natural gas line break and explosion at an apartment complex Wednesday night.
The workers were dredging the duck pond at Beverly Manor Apartments on University Avenue when the trackhoe removing dirt became stuck. Fire investigators said the crew with SBS Inc. used the boom of a backhoe to try and pull out the trackhoe when it hit a gas line, causing a large explosion and fire.
Officials are investigating if the crew contacted Arkansas One Call to locate the different utility lines before work began, said Terry England, a spokesman with Arkansas Western Gas Co.
"By law, you have to notify Ark One within 48 hours prior to excavation," England said. "We don't yet know if they had a valid locate ticket."
Crews contact operators at the call center, who in turn contact utility companies or a third-party locator to find buried lines, according to the Arkansas Underground Facilities Damage Prevention Act.
Allen White, the owner of the apartment complex, would not comment Thursday on the dredging crew or the nature of the accident.
Several tenants returned to the complex Thursday afternoon to grab possessions from their apartments. Bre Elliot was working at Hastings Entertainment when the explosion happened, and said she will stay with her mother until she can return to her apartment.
John Hart, a computer tech with Mercy Medical Center in Rogers and a resident at Beverly Manor, said he was told insurance and utility officials have to assess the damage before they can move back in, which would be next Wednesday at the earliest.
"We're very lucky to have a close community here," Hart said. "My circle of friends rent half of these apartments, so I'm staying with a friend in the next building over."
Only the two end apartments were heavily damaged by the fire, but neighboring units also have smoke and water damage, Williams said. A second building in the complex was undamaged by the explosion and fire.
Of those living in the 16 apartments, one University of Arkansas student and two university staff members were among those displaced. The residents are being housed temporarily at Duncan Street Apartments, said Michael Peerboolt with the university's housing department.
The Northwest Arkansas Red Cross helped four residents by putting them up in hotel rooms and supplying them with food and clothes, said Carmen Newberry, the Red Cross emergency services director. Remaining tenants found shelter with friends and family.
The Fayetteville Fire Department turned the property back over to White about 1 p.m. Thursday. Investigators focused on the two end apartments on the northwest corner of the building -- where the explosion occurred -- to diagram the ignition origin, said Fire Marshal David Williams.
"The information is still in pieces, and we're trying to put the puzzle together," Williams said.
Williams expects an official report on the explosion and fire sometime next week as investigators pool all the information in the coming days, he said.
The explosion happened about 7:15 p.m. and all residents were able to escape without injury before the fire consumed the corner of the building.
The White family has owned the two apartment buildings since 1985. The complex was built in 1960.

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