July 03, 2013 Edition

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NEARIFA updated
by state legislators

Dalton Sullivan
Star Herald

District 56 State Rep. Joe Jett of Success and District 20 State Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould addressed members of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities Authority (NEARIFA) at their regular monthly meeting Thursday in Corning.

Rep. Jett and Sen. Thompson discussed in detail the big issues that faced the General Assembly this past session.

Rep. Jett said two of the main issues they discussed were abortion and gun control. But he added there were other equally important issues that demanded attention. He said the legislature spent a lot of time discussing tax cuts. Rep. Jett said the tax-cut discussion was a true bi-partisan effort, with all legislators doing what they felt was "best for Arkansas."

Jett said the legislators, "did not want to do anything that would have been detrimental to the state of Arkansas."

Rep. Jett and Sen. Thompson also discussed the new Big River Steel facility in Mississippi County and the positive impact it will have on the economy of Northeast Arkansas.

Sen. Thompson also discussed HB1251, which was introduced by Dist. 33 State Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock. Sen. Thompson said the bill, titled "To Create the Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act; and To Regulate Public-Private partnerships For Public Facilities and Infrastructure," had language in the bill that would have been very friendly to Intermodal Authorities like the NEARIFA.

Sen. Thompson said the bill passed the House, but died in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. "I'm not really sure why it died," Sen. Thompson said, "because there were some good things in the bill." Sen. Thompson said he hopes the bill will be re-introduced at the next General Session in 2015.

In other business, NEARIFA Board Member Don King of Hoxie, who is the NEARIFA representative to the Arkansas Good Roads Council, gave an update on the June Good Roads meeting.

He said Arkansas Highways and Transportation Director (AHTD) Scott Bennett spoke at the meeting and discussed the just-completed legislative session, as well as new highway construction around the state. King also said Bennett referenced Act 502, which deals with imminent domain. Bennett said the passing of the Act would make it harder for AHTD to acquire land it needs.

NEARIFA Director Wayne Gearhart said the Authority is continuing to look for alternate sites in the Walnut Ridge/Hoxie area. Gearhart said he recently met with the NEARIFA's rail consultant, who made some site recommendations that had not been previously considered. He added that Crafton Tull, consulting engineers for the NEARIFA, is studying the sites.

Without naming specific companies or areas of interest due to confidentiality agreements, Gearhart said there does remain some interest from potential prospects at sites in all three counties, and the NEARIFA is assisting where it can.

The next meeting of the NEARIFA will be in Pocahontas on Thursday, July 25.

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