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UA research site wins backing, no cash

by Stephen Steed | April 6, 2021 at 1:54 a.m.

The state House of Representatives on Monday approved an unfunded bill for the proposed Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center near Jonesboro while also rejecting the planned sale of part of a state research farm.

Approved 88-0, Senate Bill 447 now goes to the governor.

The bill permits the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture to spend $16.5 million on the new research station but provides no state general revenue for the project. Special language in the bill also specifically prohibits the division from following through on the planned sale of 6,300 acres of the Pine Tree Research Station in St. Francis County to a private entity.

Lobo Farms LLC in Poinsett County had agreed to buy the Pine Tree acreage for more than $17 million, plus a $1 million endowment in animal and wetlands conservation. UA had said $5 million from the sale would go toward the Jonesboro station, matching a contribution from the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board.

UA officials, including system President Donald Bobbitt, have said the legislative ban on the sale could result in the system being sued for breach of contract.

House Bill 1694 also prohibits the sale. It has been approved by both chambers and is now with the governor.

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