City & County

EDCCC re-pledges $1.3M to rail facility

“Here’s the bottom line: we have got to come up with a plan to get a temporary trans-load facility built so at least [prospects] can see it’s hooked onto the main line.” 

— J.L. Griffin, EDCCC CEO

By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

The addition of a “critical” recruiting tool for prospective industries inched closer to completion Tuesday.

Since the 15-member Economic Development Corp. of Clark County board last met in April, two companies interested in locating here visited the industrial park and took issue with the lack of a rail spur and offloading facility for rail, said J.L. Griffin, CEO of the EDCCC.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Griffin said, “we have got to come up with a plan to get a temporary trans-load facility built so at least [prospects] can see it’s hooked onto the main line.” 

The addition of a rail spur and facility has been part of EDCCC discussion for the past several years. But as soon as the final details are etched into the golden spike, an unforeseen change slams on the brakes of the plan. For instance, Sun Paper’s requirement that rail be run across Highway 67 put a halt to the drawings already in place, delaying the already glacier-like project by several months.

“We’ve got to move forward with this railroad,” Griffin said. The EDCCC had already pledged $1.3 million to match a grant. That $2.4 million would fund a temporary facility and rail access on the south end of the Clark County Industrial Park, completing one of several phases of the overall project, which eventually would connect the industrial park to the 1,000-acre super site on the west side of Highway 67.

In this undated photo, J.L. Griffin speaks during an EDCCC meeting. | The Arkadelphian photo/Joel Phelps

“Rail is a critical factor in us having success in recruiting, especially at the super site,” said Kevin Jester, EDCCC chair. To complete the project would take upwards to $20 million. “We can break it down into manageable steps,” Jester added.

The grant had originally required project completion by October 2023 — an impossible feat at this point — so repurposing the federal grant for a time extension is now in the works.

Should the federal grant be repurposed, the EDCCC gave its unanimous approval to match the $1.3 million using a portion of the “old” tax money collected from the 1/2-cent economic development sales tax.

Griffin said he is certain there is enough regional interest to support a trans-load facility and to make a profit in its second year. “We do have the usage or we wouldn’t be trying to encourage the board to make this decision,” Griffin said. Jester added, “We don’t talk to any major clients that [say] rail is not an issue.”

Griffin did, however, warn the board to be prepared to spend more if the project requires more than its projected $2.4 million cost.

County officials this week will be guiding an engineering firm on a proposed trail system connecting Arkadelphia to DeGray Lake.

“Tourism is a lot bigger [industry] than one might think, even here in Clark County.”

— J.L. Griffin

Wesley Kluck, project manager for the trails, said the team will start at DeSoto Bluff and go all the way to Lower Lake. Kluck said he has also provided them with requested drone footage of the area. He said that by the end of the summer there should be a completed map overview of the trail system. The grant application process should start around the same time.

County Judge Troy Tucker said his office recently submitted a grant to complete an additional 1.6 miles of the Sunset Trail, whose trailhead is at the end of Lower Lake Road. If successful in obtaining that $250,000 grant, the trail would connect the northernmost end, where that trail loops back around, to the Lower Lake boat ramp.

Tucker said he’s also applied for another $500,000 TAP grant for a multi-use trail spanning the Caddo River. He said he’s gotten more information from the Arkansas Department of Transportation regarding the highway bridge. The existing bridge will remain in place during construction of the new bridge, which will boast two 16-foot-wide traffic lanes and sidewalks in addition to the 10-foot multi-use path separated from motor traffic. Tucker said he anticipates that lighting will be an added feature of the bridge.

“Tourism is a lot bigger than one might think, even here in Clark County,” said Griffin, noting that travelers from across the state and bordering states seek out outdoor adventure likes trails. That, he said, means people spending money locally by eating at restaurants and staying in hotels.

A 3-acre cell at the Clark County Landfill is about to be closed, and another one is set to open.

Tucker said he is hoping for a permit modification from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to include “some pre-determined, pre-approved industrial waste” at the landfill, which presently only allows household waste and certain building materials.

Tucker said he has identified “four or five” industries in Clark County that are generating waste that, given the permit modification, could be taken to the landfill. “What we’re doing at the Clark County Landfill is not likely going to satisfy the needs of potential industrial prospects in the future,” Tucker said, adding that the county would have had to build a landfill for Sun Paper if that project had come to fruition.

“We did have a site in Gum Springs at one point that we can look at,” he continued. “Also there is some land I have asked them to look at, across the road from the current landfill in Joan, that’s been clear-cut. If that property works out for us, that site is as good a site as any, and we’re going to meet a lot less opposition out there.”

In other business:
• The incentives application has been “finalized,” according to Griffin, and one prospect has picked up an application that could be decided on as soon as next month

• Griffin said he hopes to find grant money to help offset the $1.2 million projected to complete infrastructure improvements at the super site

• Griffin encouraged board members to review a 50-page labor study recently completed by Boyette

Hostess Brands has set Aug. 30 as a celebration day, with expected attendance from the governor and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the EDCCC; project “Harvest” is flying into Arkadelphia on Wednesday; project “Innovex” is “moving forward” with leasing 70 acres in the southwest corner of the super site; project “Teal”, a company currently working on a project in Spring Hill, La., called Griffin as recently as Sunday

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