May 2, 2012 Edition

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Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman (from left), Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House, Corning Mayor Dewayne Phelan and State Senator Robert Thompson were among officials and board members attending the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority meeting in Hoxie on April 26.

NEARIFA addresses future
of peanut farming, highways


Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

A peanut company's plans to locate in Lawrence County and the importance of good highways to prospective businesses throughout the region were discussed at the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority meeting in Hoxie on April 26.

"A peanut company that is not ready to announce their plans yet has already spent more money than we've had invested in Lawrence County in many years," Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman told Authority members. "Getting utilities to the plant site, which will be near the Highway 63 and Highway 412 intersection, will be a major undertaking."

He said the CenterPoint gas company has already collected a tremendous amount of money as down payment for service to the plant.

The company expects two to three hundred trucks a day in and out of their facility during harvest time, according to Freeman. They also want to build a railroad spur so they will be able to ship some of the peanuts.

"Ten thousand acres of peanuts have been planted this year," Freeman said. "The crop may be much bigger next year."

He said completion of the plant may be two to three years down the road.

Authority secretary Dalton Sullivan updated the group on a recent meeting with the Arkansas State Highway Department.

"There is nothing on radar for Highway 67 from Walnut Ridge to the state line," Sullivan said. "That portion of the corridor is not a priority to them right now."

He said it would cost $400 million to finish the highway from Walnut Ridge to Missouri.

"They also told us that we need to decide if we want an interstate or a four-lane standard road," Dalton added. "The road won't be built anytime soon unless the counties, municipalities, etc. want to pay for it themselves they said."

Poplar Bluff, Mo., is a good example of what a city's sales tax increase used for improving their highways can accomplish. In 2005, their citizens approved a half-cent sales tax to help four lane a portion of Highway 67, and later improved several roads that brought about development to their city.

"At some point members of our board may be asked to consider a half- cent sales tax for our region," said Intermodal director Wayne Gearhart. "The Hoxie site is ready and waiting for a company to locate there, and we are pursuing grants to allow us to work on our other sites."

Without good highways the area and the state are at a disadvantage in pursuing new businesses.

Arkansas Municipal League legislative liaison Jack Critcher told those assembled that large companies harvesting natural gas in Arkansas have caused more that $450 million in damages to Arkansas highways.

"Currently Arkansas' severance tax ranges from 1.25 to 5 percent, based on numerous factors," he said.

A severance tax is a tax imposed on the removal of nonrenewable resources such as crude oil, natural gas, etc. It is charged to producers or anyone with a working or royalty interest in oil or gas operations in the imposing state.

The process of extracting gas requires thousands of truck trips to and from the sites. The trucks carry rig assembly parts, cranes, and many types of very heavy equipment, which damages Arkansas roads. Fracking has caused damage statewide.

According to Critcher, the state has only collected $200 million, leaving a $300 million repair bill for the citizens of Arkansas to pay. He said a ballot measure that would increase the industry's severance tax to seven percent on gas extracted has been proposed, which is still lower than those in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. To be placed on the ballot at least 62,507 registered voters' signatures must be gathered.

"In 10 years the gas will be gone, the industries will be gone and our roads will still be in bad shape," Critcher said.

The Authority's next meeting will be May 24 at Black River Technical College.

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