March 6, 2013 Edition

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NEARIFA discusses
need to purchase land

Dalton Sullivan
Pocahontas Star Herald

The Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority (NEARIFA) picked up on a theme briefly discussed at the January meeting, and expanded the scope of the conversation, regarding the need for the NEARIFA to own some land somewhere that the Authority would have some control over.

It has become apparent in the last few months, that not owning a parcel of land is a hindrance to recruiting.

NEARIFA Executive Director Wayne Gearhart said, "Our focus has always been and will continue to be about jobs, and bringing them to Northeast Arkansas. We need to narrow down and find a site that we can have some control over. Owning a piece of property will show the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) as well as prospects, we are ready."

Gearhart said too often they have been asked by prospects if they have a piece of land immediately available, to which Gearhart has had to tell them no.

The NEARIFA has identified parcels of land in Corning, Pocahontas, Walnut Ridge and Hoxie they feel are suitable for development. Over the past two years, preliminary discussions were held with landowners of the Hoxie site about the possible selling of the land to the Authority, but the talks died down when the owner of a proposed rail tie facility in Hoxie decided to sell the company, with the new owners not having any interest in building a new facility.

Matt Crafton, president of Crafton Tull, the NEARIFA engineering firm, echoed what Gearhart said, saying in his experience with AEDC, having a parcel of land that is "shovel-ready," is always more desirable. Crafton added the parcel of land at Hoxie might be the most valuable to NEARIFA at this time because Crafton Tull has already done a lot of work on the site, from doing a topography study to an environmental impact statement.

There was also some discussion on rail spurs at the various sites, but that is considered a moot point until a parcel of land is identified and purchased.

Crafton also discussed the lack of grant money available from the state. He praised the NEARIFA for spending the grant money they have received wisely, and said none of the work done with it has been for naught. He added grant money from the state has been slim lately, but he is hopeful that may soon change. Crafton said the state is looking at a budget surplus, and there are many ideas on how to spend the excess funds. One of the ideas being discussed is to allocate funds to the intermodal authorities around the state.

"There is talk," Crafton said, "about giving more money to AEDC, which would be good for the Intermodal Authorities, because AEDC would then be more likely to give seed money." Crafton said his firm would be monitoring the actions of the General Assembly to see what they do with the excess funds.

The Authority also heard from a representative of the Metro Planning Organization in Jonesboro. Marsha Guffey discussed the possibility of the two entities working together on regional transportation issues, including long-range planning.

Accountant Eric Young of Thomas, Speight and Noble presented his audit findings to the NEARIFA, going over expenditures for the past two years.

The next meeting will be March 28 in Walnut Ridge.

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