LITTLE ROCK — Lawmakers could see legislation for a bond issue to finalize a proposed $1.1 billion steel mill project in northeastern Arkansas within 10 days, the state’s economic development chief said Thursday.
Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, discussed the timetable with reporters after 12 members of the newly created Legislative Steel Caucus met to discuss their support for the growing steel industry in Arkansas.
Gov. Mike Beebe and officials with Big River Steel LLC announced the project last week. The mill in Mississippi County is expected to create 525 jobs with average annual pay of $75,000. The project is contingent upon the Legislature’s approval of a $125 million issue of general obligation bonds under authority of Amendment 82, the so-called superproject amendment approved by voters in 2004.
On Monday, the governor, Tennille and other state officials familiar with the project briefed the Senate. The same group discussed the proposal with the House on Wednesday.
Under Amendment 82, once all details of the project have been finalized, legislation will be drafted and presented to the Legislature, which will then have 20 days to study it.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, and Sen. Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, have said they plan to hire a firm to analyze the project, but no final decision has been made on which firm to hire.
Tennille said Thursday his goal is to have all details of the project finalized and ready to be drafted into a bill in 10 days.
"I got a gentleman’s agreement with the speaker and the pro tem that I want them to have their consultant selected and their deal cut before we send it there," he said. "I anticipate if they’re ready, we’ll be ready in the next 10 days, or so."
During the first meeting of the Legislative Steel Caucus, Rep. Monte Hodges, D-Blytheville, co-chairman of the group, spoke of the importance of the steel plant to Mississippi County and the jobs and other opportunities it will afford the community.
"We want to stand behind this endeavor and get Arkansas to work," Hodges said.
A total of 30 state senators and House members have joined the caucus.
The other co-chairman, Sen. David Burnett, D-Osceola, said if the deal is finalized and the plant is built, Arkansas will be will become a major player in steel production nationally.
"I think the steel caucus is appropriate at this time because if the steel mill comes to fruition it will create an area of the state of Arkansas that is one of the largest steel producing areas in the United States," he said. "A steel caucus to support the steel industry at this time is extremely important."
Mississippi County is already home to two other steel plants.
Also Thursday, the Delta Grassroots Caucus, a bipartisan Delta advocacy group that represents counties and cities in the eight-state Delta region of the United States, announced its support for the steel mill project.