November 2, 2011 Edition

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Delay expected in IRR project

Dalton Sullivan
Star Herald

The timeline to bring Integrated Renewable Resources (IRR) to Hoxie is expected to be slowed somewhat, as their parent company, Thompson Industries is being acquired by Stella Jones Inc., a Canadian-based company that is a leading producer and marketer of pressure treated wood products.

The Company supplies North America's railroad operators with railway ties, timbers and recycling services and the continent's electrical utility and telecommunications companies with utility poles.

At the regular monthly meeting of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority (NEARIFA), Executive Director Wayne Gearhart told the board Stella had signed a non-binding letter-of-intent to purchase Thompson for $41 million. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year.

"I am unsure how this will affect IRR," Gearhart said. "Without question I think it will have a delaying effect on our venture."

For the past two years, NEARIFA and IRR have been working together to develop property just north of U. S. 63 in Hoxie, near the intersection of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Union Pacific (UP) railroads.

IRR, which already has a contract with BNSF, planned on building a facility to manufacture railroad ties for the two railroads. It is estimated the facility would eventually bring 150 jobs to the area.

While conceding this could possibly delay the IRR project, Gearhart added he believed Stella would have interest in IRR's venture given they are already in the industry. Gearhart said the NEARIFA Executive Committee, along with Engineer Jerry Kelso of Crafton Tull would be monitoring the situation and hoped to have more answers by the next meeting.

Proposed bridge

The board also heard from Nathan Davis of Sen. John Boozman's office about the proposed new bridge at Black Rock. Davis said the senator has been told by officials at the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD), the new bridge in on the "fast track" and is a top priority for the AHTD. He said the department is already working on acquiring right-of-way and has done their environmental impact study.

According to Davis, AHTD has not decided on the design for the bridge, but it will be four-lane and will be built on the south side of the existing bridge.

Black River Technical College President Dr. Wayne Hatcher also addressed the NEARIFA Board. Dr. Hatcher pledged the full support of BRTC to help in any way possible including grant applications, providing meeting space and providing specific classes.

"We want to collaborate with you," Dr. Hatcher said, "with training or anything we can do to help you recruit new industry." Dr. Hatcher closed his remarks by thanking the board for their "vision, and refusing to accept the status quo."

The board unanimously approved a motion to begin seeking options on the land in Hoxie where IRR and other companies have interest.

The next meeting of the NEARIFA Board of Directors will be on Thursday, Dec. 8, at 10:30 a.m. at BRTC in Pocahontas.

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