Doubts raised about Chaffee rail facility

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 126 views 

A Union Pacific representative dismissed claims from David Harp at the February Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) meeting that the rail carrier could deliver 200 to 300 jobs to the Fort Smith region.

The company issued an official statement to The City Wire on Wednesday that said the following:

“Several factors are studied before railroads consider providing services to new facilities. If there are sufficient business opportunities to warrant a new facility, we work with developers using a formal process. We have had preliminary discussions about a facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but further study is needed to determine if there is sufficient demand for a new facility. We are committed to exploring the possibility and providing feedback to help groups determine if all factors are in place to help ensure the project is a success.”

On Tuesday, prior to Union Pacific’s official statement, company representative Steven J. McLaws said the claims made at February’s FCRA meeting with regard to the potential trans-load facility were “incorrect,” noting the company “doesn’t even go there (to Chaffee Crossing).” McLaws would not expand on that statement and referred The City Wire to Raquel Espinoza, the company's director of corporate relations.

Espinoza's official release calls into question the details potential land buyer David Harp revealed at the FCRA meeting.

While presenting his request to option more than 300 acres of land for a potential 250,000 square foot facility, Harp said the trans-load plant could bring 200 to 300 jobs to the area. The FCRA granted Harp a 1-year option on the acreage at a price of around $8,500 per acre. The entire investment of approximately $2.5 million is contingent on Harp and Union Pacific working out a deal, with Harp noting that “if the deal hasn’t happened in a year, it won’t happen.”

Also at that meeting, Owen expressed his encouragement regarding Union Pacific’s alleged enthusiasm for the project.

“Two weeks ago, I wasn’t very encouraged about this whole thing (trans-load facility), but talking to Union Pacific as much as I have, I’m pretty encouraged now.”

Harp plans to meet with Union Pacific, along with FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen, on Feb. 22 in Omaha, Neb., at the company’s headquarters.

Union Pacific refused to reveal whether there was an allocation in its capital expenditure budget for the facility. They also neither confirmed nor denied Harp’s claims it was the company, who approached him with the idea.

The company was also unwilling to answer questions regarding how many of these types of facilities were constructed in the last three years as well as a potential timeframe for when further discussion with Harp and Owen would occur.

Owen stands by the Feb. 22 meeting date, which he restated on Wednesday at the bi-monthly Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (RITA) meeting, but Espinoza would neither confirm nor deny this date.