The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture said Tuesday it will not go forward with a proposed $16.5 million land sale that drew opposition from Arkansas legislators and Arkansas’ senior U.S. Senator.
“The Division of Agriculture and the prospective buyers of the acreage at the Pine Tree Research Station have mutually agreed to terminate the contract for the sale of the property,” Nate Hinkel, a spokesman for the University of Arkansas System, said in an email to Arkansas Business.
Last year, the Division of Agriculture planned to sell part of recreational land in St. Francis County, known as the Pine Tree Research Station, to Lobo Farms of Fisher (Poinsett County).
The UA planned to use $5 million of the proceeds to help pay for the Northeast Rice Research & Extension Center south of Jonesboro. But the proposed sale drew protests from hunters and allegations of bid manipulation.
State Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, and Reps. Steve Hollowell, R-Forrest City, and Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, introduced legislation in March to retain Pine Tree Research Station’s recreational land as public property, and lawmakers approved it.
But last week, UA System President Don Bobbitt, citing the system’s earlier contract with Lobo Farms, said the system was obligated to operate under the contract. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, the ranking member of a congressional committee that would have to approve the sale, said he wouldn’t support it, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
“While we are ready to move on from this contentious matter, we are disappointed in losing the $17 million in vital funding the sale would have provided to the Division for rice research, as well as critical and deferred maintenance needs across the state,” Hinkel said in a statement.