Agri-Economic Development Chair Looking Forward To Superproject Analysis

by Roby Brock ( 7 views 

Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) says the announcement of a $1.1 billion steel mill superproject is exciting news for the state, but he cautioned that Arkansas lawmakers would scrutinize the financial aspects of the deal to thoroughly vet the project.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Beebe announced Big River Steel Mill will build a $1.1 billion state-of-the-art manufacturing facility near Osceola (Mississippi County). The project will employ 525 workers and could have a $236 million economic impact on the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

State officials have recommended a $125 million bond in order to help finance incentives and to provide a low-interest loan to the company to help with construction and prep work. Lawmakers will have to approve the bond deal.

“An announcement of that magnitude is a positive thing, it’s exciting,” said Shepherd. “As the legislature we realize we have some work to do in terms of vetting the proposal and looking at the details of it and determining what is in the best interest of the state of Arkansas.”

Shepherd said a scenario where state legislators reject the superproject deal “would be speculation” at this point. He also said he didn’t know if lawmakers would forego a bond issue for a dedicated cash deal to close the $125 million in financing.

“I think we’ll look at the proposal, look at all the options available and determine what’s the best course,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd’s House committee also has oversight for the state’s embattled Forestry Commission, which was plagued in the interim by funding shortfalls and financial mismanagement.

The committee received a report on Wednesday from new Forestry Commissioner Joe Fox and Shepherd said he thought the agency’s woes were behind it.

“It sounds like things are certainly in a much better position than we were a year ago, a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement, but it sounds like to me we may have turned the page there.”

You can view Shepherd’s full interview below or listen to an mp3 of his interview here.