September 1, 2010 Edition

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Lawrence County was well represented at the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority meeting at Black River Technical College recently. Among those attending were: John Holt (from left), James Ratliff, Don King, Donnie Robertson, Alex Latham and Dale Freeman.

Authority's recruitment
of new industry on track

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

"At this time everything is right on track, and we have run into no obstacles so far," said Wayne Gearhart, chairman of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority at the Authority's monthly meeting on Aug. 26 at Black River Technical College in Pocahontas.

The Authority is in the process of recruiting a manufacturing company, Integrated Renewable Resources, to locate a new plant in the Hoxie/Walnut Ridge area. Engineers and attorneys have been hired to assist in the process, as well as in other endeavors for the Authority, and are currently waiting for permission from the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe lines to build needed spurs for the proposed plant.

The railroads' approval is essential for the plant to be feasible, and thus far they have been cooperative with the Authority, according to Gearhart.

A 10 percent conceptional plan has to be submitted to and approved by the railroads before the Authority can move on to the next step for the proposed plant, tentatively within the next 60 days.

A representative from the engineering firm of Crafton, Tull and Sparks said that a boundary survey has been completed, and that as soon as the rice is harvested from the proposed property, topographic and environmental surveys will be completed. He said no environmental problems are anticipated.

A second industry has also expressed interest in locating an operation near the IRR site if the plant becomes a reality.

The next step will be contacting the owners of the land who would be impacted by the plant. The nearly 100-acre site would be located on the boundary line between Walnut Ridge and Hoxie near U.S. Highway 63. The facility would make railroad ties and wood pellets and would employ up to 120 people.

Renee Doty, community development consultant for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, told the board that her agency will support the training of a skilled workforce. "We will help the Authority in every way we can," Doty said.

Representatives from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department were on hand to discuss ongoing and future highway construction in Northeast Arkansas that will benefit the Authority as well as citizens in general. The board learned that one mile of interstate grade highway costs between $8 and $12 million, buts lasts longer than the regular highway grade.

The railroads, highways and airports in this area are a great asset to the Authority in recruiting new businesses, board members agreed. The most immediate goal for the Authority is the plant in Hoxie/Walnut Ridge, but it will take some time and there is still much work to do.

Integrated Renewable Resources is also considering a second site in Tupelo, Miss., company officials have said.

"We are going down the track, waiting on specific things to happen," Gearhart said. "We are taking the natural steps to get us down the road (for progress). We don't want to make a misstep that could be costly to the Authority or to this area."

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