A meeting set for Wednesday between the nine members of the Arkansas Red River Commission and Governor Mike Beebe may determine the future of a 40-year project to bring navigation along the Red River into Arkansas.
Hempstead County representatives to the RRC are Randy Bobo, of Hope, and Warren Plyler, of Spring Hill.
The meeting stems from action in the recent 89th Arkansas General Assembly which essentially raided the $10 million trust account of the Commission and split the bulk of the money between Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas, in DeQueen, and the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope. State Senator Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, has been credited with having engendered the financial shift, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville , in what is commonly known as the General Improvement Fund appropriation.
“We have a meeting set with the Governor this week, and the Commission will ask him if he can fund it to finish the project,” RRC spokesperson Kathy Mueller said Monday.
At issue is whether Beebe will use some $3 million in “Executive Discretionary” funds in the GIF appropriation to keep the RRC in operation long enough to complete a final feasibility study contract with the U. S. Corps of Engineers regarding the extension of waterway navigation on the Red River from Shreveport, La., into Arkansas. Those funds were set in the GIF for the Red River Waterway Trust Fund, essentially the $3 million difference between the $10 millon balance and the $7 million that went to the community colleges.
“We didn't have the support locally that we needed,” Mueller said. “Our representatives are planning on attending the meeting with us.”
However, Hickey has argued that the money was destined to be spent elsewhere, and he was able to see that the bulk of it stayed in Southwest Arkansas.
“Our representatives have since told us that they didn't realize they were turning off the entire navigation project,” Mueller said.
But, that does not necessarily ensure that the $3 million in Beebe's fund will be available, she said.
“Every year, when the budget is passed, they put that in for the different agencies like us,” Mueller said. “All this means is, 'If we have the money, we will give it to you.'”
But, Mueller said that in the past 15 years, the RRC has never received funding from that source.
She said the recent announcement that Arkansas' tax revenues grew by some $43 million were heartening, until the Commission was told, “That $43 million has already been allocated.”
Mueller said the Commission has been exploring a number of options, but she did not elaborate.