A new market for Grant County’s timberland owners is on the horizon with the April 26 announcement of a $1.3 billion pulp mill to be constructed near Arkadelphia.
Shandong Sun Paper Industry Joint Stock Company of China says the state-of–the-art facility will employ 250 workers with a payroll totaling $13 million a year. If the company secures the required environmental permits before the end of 2016, construction will begin early next year and the plant is projected to begin production in late 2019 – requiring as much as 4 million tons per year of wood fiber produced by 1,000 logging industry workers.
Appearing at a Capitol press conference with Sun Paper founder and chairman Hongxin Li, Governor Asa Hutchinson declared the project “one of the largest private investments in the history of the state of Arkansas.
“In a broader context, it will result in a real boost to the economy of south Arkansas throughout the timber industry,” Hutchinson said. “The fact Sun Paper is investing more than $1 billion in south Arkansas speaks volumes of their confidence in our workforce and pro-business environment.”
The company had narrowed its site selection list down to the Clark County site and a site in Mississippi.
Last November, Hutchinson and Economic Development director Mike Preston traveled to the company’s headquarters in Shandong Province, China to sign a letter of intent in which the company agreed to choose a site for the mill before May 1.
The state will provide incentives to the company based on the size of the facility’s payroll and the magnitude of the investment. A cash rebate of 5 percent of new payroll for 10 years; sales tax refunds on building materials and equipment; up to $3 million for workforce training and a $50 million collateralized loan have been guaranteed to the company.
Almost a tenth of the children in Arkansas have had a parent incarcerated in the correctional system.
That sad statistic comes from a report recently released by the Annie Casey Foundation, which drew its findings from a study covering the years 2011 and 2012 and showed approximately 61,000 Arkansas children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point.
The report is part of the foundation’s KIDS COUNT project, which endeavors to improve opportunities for America’s youth.
Nationally, the study determined the proportion of children with an imprisoned mom or dad was 7 percent, or roughly 5.1 million kids.
From 1980 to 2000, the report said the rate increased by 500 percent.
Forty-five percent of incarcerated men in state and federal detention centers age 24 and younger are fathers, while 48 percent of female inmates in federal prison are mothers. Fifty-five percent of females in state prisons are mothers.
A total of four people in the state have been diagnosed this year carrying the Zika virus by the Arkansas Department of Health.
Three of the cases are in people returning from trips to Central America, South America and the Pacific Islands, according to department spokesman Meg Mirvel.
The two most recent cases were verified by a lab test that officials say is used within seven days of the onset of symptoms.
The virus is carried by a certain mosquito species – once believed to be confined to Africa where it was first identified in 1947. But the virus was detected last year in Brazil and has since spread to the Caribbean.
An intense thunderstorm the morning of April 29 caused injury to a Sheridan School District administrator when lightning struck the district’s central office building.
Athletic Director Mark Scarbrough was injured when a bolt of lightning struck him as he was working in his office. He was taken to a Little Rock hospital for tests and later released.
The school released no details of Scarbrough’s condition.
A spokesman for 9-1-1 Emergency dispatch said an ambulance was requested by the school administration and arrived at the building, but witnesses at the scene said Scarbrough refused transport and was instead driven by his wife to an emergency room.
Grant County’s population dropped in 2015 after peaking at 18,115 people the previous year, according to newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
The county’s population declined last year to 18,102. Yet, the number reflects only a 1.3 percent increase in five years.
If accurate, it is the first time in decades the county’s population declined from one year to the next and follows a trend in many Arkansas counties of population shrinkage.
The estimates are based on a complex formula the nation’s head counting agency uses to interpolate between the official decennial census, when a more intensive effort is made to determine the actual population of the country. Estimates of birth to death ratios and general migration trends are built into the formula to yield population estimates for each year of a decade. The estimates are needed by federal, state and local governments to forecast tax revenue, plan industrial development and apportion voting districts for elections. Waning populations also equate to small school districts struggling to survive because of lower student enrollments and communities suffering from fewer employment opportunities.
It is often said that trends always come back around from generation to generation in the fashion world, but that same theory is not normally referred to where drugs are concerned.
Heroin, however, has become the exception with a strong reappearance across the country, state and even locally. The twist is now heroin producers have added a new “style” to their closet with a pill form, making heroin even more convenient for users.
Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. It has no acceptable medical use, and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act. Original forms of heroin can be injected, smoked, or inhaled by snorting or sniffing, but now it can be ingested in a pill form as well.
Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” The pill form is a combination of the powder heroin and an over-the-counter drug such as Tylenol PM, which can be crushed then mixed with the heroin powder and pressed back into a pill. Heroin is an addictive drug, and it is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.
Heroin had lost much of its popularity in past decades, and has not been a drug of choice in most areas in many years including Arkansas and Grant County. However, the downward trend in popularity has changed. Law enforcement officials across the state have noted an increase in heroin cases including Grant County and surrounding areas.
Grant County Sheriff Ray Vance received approval from the Quorum Court on April 18 to establish a special fund to accumulate fees charged for fingerprint services.
The ordinance authorizes the sheriff’s department to assess a fee of not more than $10 to people needing a fingerprint scan required as part of a criminal background check and allows the sheriff, at his discretion, to waive the fee for certain applicants.
Vance said his department is receiving an increasing number of requests for fingerprinting, mostly from people applying for concealed weapons permits.
The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is the process of matching one or many unknown fingerprints against a database of known and unknown prints. They are used primarily by law enforcement agencies for criminal identification initiatives, the most important of which include identifying a person suspected of committing a crime or linking a suspect to other unsolved crimes.
Stress, workload and low pay are the top reasons that one out of three teachers are leaving the profession after only three years on the job, according to a report submitted to state legislators April 12.
The findings were compiled from the results of a survey conducted by the Bureau of Legislative Research and presented to members of the Joint House-Senate Education Committee as part of its biennial review of education adequacy in Arkansas.
The committee also learned from a separate report there is a shortage of specialized teachers, particularly for special education classes because of excessively burdensome paperwork. Districts suffering a serious lack of special-ed teachers during the 2014-15 school-year filed over 440 requests for waivers with the state education department seeking relaxation of requirements in order to fill vacant special-ed teaching positions.
After heavy rains in March, the Grant County Museum fell victim to flooding issues in the Jenkins’ Ferry Gallery where many Civil War artifacts are showcased, but the gallery will be reopened on April 30 after repairs and redecorating are completed.
The Jenkins’ Ferry Gallery was constructed around 2000 to display artifacts collected from the Civil War battle site by the museum’s founder, Elwin Goolsby, and other area residents and donated to the Grant County Museum.
The artifacts stored in the gallery include a medical saddle bag and surgical instruments; a house dress made in 1865; unearthed artifacts such as artillery shells and assorted iron projectiles; a musket and minnie balls; rifles; cooking and dining utensils, square nails, horseshoes, bayonets and knives and scissors, axe heads, canteens, and much more.
After excessive heavy rains in March these artifacts were threatened when the gallery floor flooded. Museum employees were tasked with removing all artifacts from the gallery, which then received several repairs after drying out.
Museum Director Lindsey Stanton said: “To protect them from the elements, we temporarily extracted hundreds of artifacts from the then damp and barren gallery. Coincidentally, heavy rains fell for 18 hours leading up to the battle.”
The accident-plagued south interchange of the Sheridan/U.S. 167 Bypass has been targeted for further improvement by the Arkansas Highway Commission.
Sheridan Mayor Joe Wise received a copy of a minute order approved by the commission on March 2 authorizing the project with the goal of eliminating rollovers by northbound semi-tractor trailer trucks attempting to turn right onto U.S. 167B.
Four of these type accidents have occurred at the location since the bypass opened on April 3, 2014.
Accident investigations reveal truck drivers fail to negotiate the turn because of the left-leaning bank of the curve as they turn right while heavily loaded.
The order authorizes Highway Commission director Scott Bennett to proceed with plans to construct a channelized right turn lane at the northbound exit from Section 10 into Section 10B of Highway 167B to provide substantial safety benefits for large commercial vehicles.
The project is eligible for Federal-aid Safety funds and up to $500,000 is available for the badly needed improvement. The commission’s decision was supported by a study of the intersection’s accident history.