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WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration has announced 16 communities across the nation that will receive planning grants and two of them are in eastern Arkansas.

Officials with the Helena-West Helena/Phillips County Port Authority and the city of McCrory said they're delighted to receive technical assistance with their projects.

In Helena-West Helena, economic development officials would like to convert an old school bus shed on Biscoe Street into a farmers market and event center.

In McCrory, officials would like to start a new community garden and, potentially, a farmers market, along with what's described as a "healthy hub" -- a place that provides "clinical screening services, nutrition education classes, cooking demonstrations, prescription assistance and food pantry distribution under one roof."

The aid is available through Local Foods, Local Places, an initiative implemented by President Barack Obama's administration in 2014.

More than 75 applications for the assistance were received.

In a news release, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said the communities would "work with a team of experts to identify local assets and opportunities that can support local food enterprises, and set goals for leveraging those resources in ways that spur revitalization. They then develop an implementation plan and help identify potential resources from the participating federal agencies to support implementation."

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the efforts would "support local farmers, improve public health, protect the environment, and grow local economies."

The Delta Regional Authority provided $30,000 for the planning grants in Arkansas.

"There's not any direct dollars coming into our coffers but they are paying for the individuals and the team that will come in to work with us to go through the nuts and the bolts of whether this is practical or not," said John Edwards, general counsel and economic development director of the port authority in Helena-West Helena.

The old bus shed was slowly deteriorating in 2016 when school officials agreed to sell it, but it had potential, Edwards said.

"It was just a really neat-looking building if you could get past the vines growing over it and the general decay," he said.

The authority replaced the roof and cleared away the overgrowth. Now officials are looking for ways to bring the property back to life.

"It's a great facility. ... It's very easy to get to and very accessible," Edwards said. "We will find a productive use for this building."

Wednesday's EPA announcement wasn't just good news for Helena. It also pleased officials in the small Woodruff County town of McCrory.

"Out of all the cities in the United States, little McCrory, Ark., has been chosen as one of the communities to do this program," said Mayor Doyle Fowler. "We're pretty excited about it."

The city of roughly 1,700 people, 65 miles west of Memphis, has a walking trail and recently acquired some exercise equipment. Now there's talk of creating a farmers market so that people can buy more locally grown food, Fowler said.

The project has drawn people together, with the city, the extension service, the schools and a health clinic all collaborating on the efforts, according to Fowler.

"We're just trying to have a healthier community and a happier community and a more vibrant community and things that are going to improve our economy," Fowler added.

Chris Caldwell, the Delta Regional Authority's federal co-chairman, said his agency is "helping provide resources that these communities may not have directly or be able to afford."

"We're in the whole process from the beginning to end, from the start to the finish," he said.

If the program succeeds, it's good for local agriculture and for people's health, he said.

In addition to the authority and the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also partners in the Local Foods, Local Places initiative, he noted.

"It's a great example of federalism, cooperation among agencies," he added.

SundayMonday on 05/27/2018

Print Headline: U.S. grants to aid local projects go to two cities

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