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Okay Plant Property and the Future

By Staff, 02/15/18 3:51 PM
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The prospect of economic development on property once used by a closed cement plant near Saratoga was the main focus of the February meeting of the Southwest Arkansas Development Alliance (SADA) Friday at Okay. The meeting used the building of Community Baptist Church, which is “land-locked” by property owned by LafargeHolcim, and that property itself was given to the church when the plant closed.

Steve Harris, current president of the Alliance and president of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation introduced Curtis Middleton (right), Manager of Site Closures and Closed Assets based in Artesia, Mississippi and Chief Geologist Tom Newman (left) of Fort Collins, Colorado. Both said they are working to get up to speed on the Okay Site, as the original contact that provided the details on a possible sale had left the company. Newman has been to the site in the past.

Middleton said, “The goal is for someone to come in and bring some jobs.” He said the possibility of another cement plant at Okay was remote.

Newman said the 1972 oil embargo was the death knell for plants that used a “wet” process, as the Okay plant did, and most were retro-fitted or closed in the following 20 years. Wet process involved the evaporating of large amounts of water, probably in excess of 200,000 gallons a day at Okay, which Newman said was not feasible due to the high cost of energy. Most cement is produced using a dry method today. He said Mexico’s dumping of cement on the market in the late 1980s devastated domestic production. Okay closed in December of 1992.

Both company officials said all options were open for the site with the exception of a cement plant. They said at this time they could not see a problem for other industries using the minerals on-site.

Officials with Southwestern Electric Power Company, which has a large substation on the property, are concerned about a possible desire by the Army Corps of Engineers to cease maintenance of a levee that protects part of the old quarry area of the site and substation. Jennifer Harland, External Affairs Manager for Northeast Texas and Southwest Arkansas said there have been on-going discussions with her company and the Corps. Arkansas Southern Railroad officials said they are also meeting with the Corps in discussion to reactivate a mile long spur track into the plant site to use for rail car storage, which generates revenue for the company. The levee was required when Millwood Lake was constructed in the 1960s to protect parts of the property.

It was the consensus of all present to tout the site to industrial prospects. Cody Slater with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), said the site is one of the few large sites across the state. The company officials said their next step is to look at the current price listed, and at the acreage as well as what requirements and stipulations that may be part of the process. Joey Bitner, Commercial Manager for Watco, the railroad’s parent company, said he will begin working on a portfolio touting the rail aspect and his company’s efforts to market the site. There has been several prospects visit the site in the past year, and its listed with the AEDC website.

Following the presentation and other SADA reports, those in attendance toured parts of the property.
special thanks to Saratoga Arkansas Digest

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