June 29, 2011 Edition

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Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman (from left), board member John Allen of Hoxie, Don King, vice president of iBERIABANK, and Wayne Gearhart, director of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority, discuss upcoming projects at the authority's June meeting in Hoxie on Thursday.
TD Photo ~ Gloria Wilkerson

Site plan expected soon
for railroad tie plant

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Hoxie Mayor Lanny Tinker welcomed members of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority (NEARIFA) at their June meeting in Hoxie on Thursday morning.

"Welcome to Hoxie," Tinker said to the board members. "We're looking forward to bringing in new jobs to this area. The Walnut Ridge/Hoxie project, Integrated Renewable Resources LLC, will be located nearer the citizens of Hoxie, which causes me to have a greater interest in the environmental studies."

"We have had some concerns about the environmental impact on our town, and those concerns have been addressed. I am cautiously optimistic about the plant until I see the site plan." NEARIFA Director Wayne Gearhart told the board that the group's engineering firm had informed him that the site plan should be finalized soon. Board treasurer Milton Smith said the site plan will show where the plant will be located, as well as roads, power and water lines, drainage and things of that nature.

"It will also include an estimate of what it will cost to build the plant, buy the site and place the infrastructure," Smith said. "Then we can begin applying for loans and grants."

"Jerry Kelso said he is well pleased with how things are going," Gearhart said. Kelso is an engineer with Crafton Tull Sparks engineering firm in Little Rock. "He has been very involved with this site and our other sites as well. He makes sure we keep our other three sites in mind, and I appreciate that."

The engineering firm's contract will come up for renewal soon, and board members expressed how happy they have been with their current firm. The board said they have been very pleased with how well they have kept the authority informed, and they have also traveled from Little Rock to attend two or three special meetings, as well as the regular authority meetings.

The authority does not have a website, and Gearhart said that is one thing they need to concentrate on.

"A website is absolutely necessary for marketing now and in the future," he said. "We need to set up a committee at our next meeting to work on a website for us, and find out how many links board members want to include.

"We have to let it be known that we have other options for businesses and industries, each with its own positives. We just need to get the word out about the possibilities throughout our area."

Gearhart also shared with the board that Congressman John Boozman visited Randolph County recently and had very positive comments about the authority. Boozman said it takes communities working together to accomplish their goals in today's world, Gearhart said.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) has been invited to visit with the authority for the first time on Aug. 3-4.

Gearhart said the board is planning an itinerary for their visit, one that will include a visit to each of the authority's sites and show the AEDC what this part of Arkansas has to offer.

The authority's planning committee met immediately after the regular meeting to discuss a reception for AEDC members and their guests on Aug. 3 and a private bond meeting on Aug. 4, followed by the regular authority meeting. Crafton Tull Sparks will make a 15-20 minute presentation during the regular meeting.

Williams Baptist College has offered the loan of their bus to transport AEDC members from site to site on a community tour, and they will be shown projects they have helped fund.

"We expect 75-100 people will attend the reception," said Gearhart. "Formal invitations will be sent. We are also looking at a list of places for their family members to visit while we are in meetings. We want to showcase our communities."

District 80 State Rep. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas, who will be in New Orleans for a national meeting during the AEDC's visit, asked that the authority stress the quality of life here.

"It's important for them to know about our people," she said. "I would also like to see us invite the legislature for a visit to let them see what we are accomplishing." Gearhart thanked the members of the authority board.

"These are the most cooperative and dedicated people I have ever worked with and I appreciate them," he said.

The authority's July meeting will be held in Corning on July 28.

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