The face of the landscape in Hope and Hempstead County changed in 2012 in a number of arenas, as the year brought new facilities, and new faces in politics.
Perhaps, the most surprising new development in the landscape in Hope was the completion of a project which doubled the size of what is now known as the Rainbow of Challenges complex on South Main Street, with the addition of the Patti C. Manus Administrative Complex and the complete remodeling of the former Morton Annex facility.
Opened in April, the complex was the result of a package developed through the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The new facility largely expanded the office capacity for the ROC, while creating permanent homes for client services and training. The project gained support at the city, county, state and congressional level, through the efforts of Manus, Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey, State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, and Congressman Mike Ross.
Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton brought a plan before the Hempstead County Quorum Court in July to provide a permanent solution to roof leakage at the Hempstead County Detention Center, and to expand the sheriff's side office space... all without affecting tax dollars.
The $500,000 makeover, still in its latter stages, is financed through funds from the County's settlement of a jail design lawsuit with its former architects, and through the collection of a booking fee charged to each inmate.
JDL Construction Co., of Texarkana, has completed the roof work, which converted the flat, tar roof to a pitched, metal roof across the entire complex. New HVAC equipment was also installed by Greenlee Sheet Metal Co.
The second phase of the project involves expansion of the offices on the County's side of the building to accommodate investigative, patrol deputies, and warrants office space, along with a conference area in approximately 1,800-square feet of new space, according to Singleton's proposal. Attic storage will also accommodate records storage, which has become overcrowded on the fifth floor of the county courthouse.
Bobo and Bain Construction Co., of Hope, is the contractor for the expansion project.
September saw the ribbon cutting and formal dedication of the new outreach campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope – Texarkana. The complex, located directly off Loop 245 on U of A Way, have been ongoing since the beginning of the Fall, 2012, semester. The facility includes classroom space, faculty offices, faculty room, and a student commons.
And, while the John W. Turk, Jr., Power Plant has been under construction at Fulton for some time, it's official start-up in December put the $2 billion power plant online with the Southwest Power Pool to begin providing commercial generation services. A formal dedication of the facility is planned for April, 2013.
AEP/Southwestern Electric Power Co. President/COO Venita McCellon-Allen called the generation start-up a milestone for AEP/SWEPCO.
Page 2 of 3 - SWEPCO owns 73 percent (440 MW) of the $1.8 billion facility. Co-owners include the 490,000-member Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC), 12 percent; the East Texas Electric Cooperative (ETEC), eight percent for its 178,000 customers; and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority (OMPA), which serves 39 municipal electric systems in the state, seven percent, according to the announcement.
The Turk plan is the first baseload power plant in the U. S. to go into operation using “ultra-supercritical” firing which generates electricity more efficiently at higher temperatures, requires less coal and produces fewer emissions to generate the same amount of power as existing coal units, the company said. The facility, located on a 3,000-acre site between Fulton and McNaby, is fired using low-sulphur Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming, which is shipped into the site by rail.
The plant will have 109 permanent positions and an estimated annual payroll of $9 million. Turk will provide an additional $6 million in annual school and county property tax revenues in Southwest Arkansas, the company said. The plant will serve SWEPCO retail and wholesale customers in Louisiana and Texas, as well as the ETEC customers. In Arkansas the plant will serve SWEPCO's wholesale customers, including the cities of Hope, Bentonville and Prescott, and the AECC members.
The facility is named after the late John W. Turk, Jr., president and CEO of SWEPCO from 1983-1988.
New faces in politics were part of the electoral year in 2012 as Hempstead County followed the same pattern of electoral schizophrenia as in 2008, voting Republican in non-local elections and Democrat at home.
Hempstead County had 6,988 votes cast in the election, or 68.8 percent of the 10,151 registered voters in the county. The turnout fell short of the 2008 general election, where 7,386 votes were cast in the county, as Mitt Romney carried the county with 4,274 votes, or 22 votes more than were cast for John McCain in 2008. By contrast, President Barack Obama tallied 2,462 votes Tuesday, but received 2,861 votes in 2008, a shortfall this year of 399 votes.
In the surprising loss in Arkansas Senate District 11 by State Senator Steve Harrelson, D-Texrkana, challenger Jimmy Hickey, a Texarkana Republican, won Miller County with a strong showing of 8,520 votes to 6,538 votes for Harrelson. That win, coupled with the loss of Hempstead County, which has historically been a reliable outpost for Harrelson, turned the tide for Hickey, as Harrelson won Lafayette, Little River and Sevier counties.
In the race for the Fourth Congressional District seat being given up by Congressman Mike Ross, D-Ar., of Prescott, Dardanelle Republican Tom Cotton swept Southwest Arkansas, tallying 22,920 votes to 15,077 votes for State Senator Gene Jeffress, of Louann.
Examining the precinct breakdown of that race in Hempstead County, Cotton won in 16 precincts, both in the large Hope boxes and in the county. He held commanding leads in Hope 3, 5, 6, and 7, as well as Spring Hill, Blevins, Shover Springs and DeAnn. Cotton's largest margin in the county was in Spring Hill, where he beat Jeffress by 200 votes.
Page 3 of 3 - Jeffress won six precincts, including Hope 1, 2, and 4, with margins of about 100 votes in each of those three precincts; but, he ran poorly in the county, winning Cross Roads by a vote of 47-45, and losing most rural boxes by 50 votes or more.
In the contest for the Arkansas House of Representatives, District 3, seat being vacated by retiring State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, D-Hope, McCaskill native James Brent Talley won 15 precincts, claiming decisive wins in Hope 1, 2, and 4 by about 100 votes in each precinct.
But, Republican Sharon Wright, of Hope, kept Talley's victory tight, winning nine boxes, but mostly by margins of 20 votes or less. Wright won Spring Hill by a vote of 264-157, and she won Hope 3 by six votes, Hope 6 by 18 votes and Hope 7 by a single vote, 122-121.
The month of May brought a political bombshell from Ross as he announced his intention to leave politics after 22 years in government service. Ross said that the acrimony of the national political scene had simply been too much for him, and he didn't have the stomach for continually raising money and campaigning. He has taken a position as senior vice president for government affairs and public relations with the Southwestern Power Pool in Little Rock.
“It's frustrating to someone like me who is in the middle,” Ross said.
He said elected officials on both sides of the aisle are afraid of the extremes within their respective parties, and wind up getting nothing substantive done.
“Republicans who used to work with me have backed off, because they say, 'I'll get a Tea Party opponent if I do;' and, Democrats have been the same way, thinking 'I'll get opposition from the MoveOn organization,” Ross said. “Both political parties run to their corners and do what their party leaders say.”
Ross had been an odds-on favorite to run for governor, but he discounted that, as well, because of the need to raise inordinate amounts of cash and the likelihood of a bruising primary campaign.