U of A pursues Pine Tree land sale despite laws in place, lawmakers’ opposition

Published: Jun. 11, 2021 at 11:28 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 12, 2021 at 12:56 PM CDT
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ST. FRANCIS COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) - The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture is continuing to pursue the Pine Tree Research Station land sale, despite laws passed in the legislative session to the contrary.

After laws were passed during the General Assembly to prohibit the sale, the university began working on a short-term agreement with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to manage the land through 2021.

Sen. Ron Caldwell (R-Wynne), the sponsor for the bills, said the issue arose when Lobo Farms, LLC was listed on the contract between AGFC and the U of A just before Memorial Day.

Lobo Farms is the private entity the university has been trying to sell the land to since last summer.

“Although the contract [between Lobo Farms and the U of A] was mentioned on those working papers, Lobo Farms was not going to be a signing agent on that,” said Caldwell. “Every indication we have was that they were going to try to go ahead and proceed with the contract and we just want them to stop.”

In a state legislative committee meeting on Tuesday, Caldwell and several other lawmakers discussed the contract with representatives for the university.

The discussion during the meeting became heated several times, with Caldwell saying the university has “poked their finger in the eye of the legislature.”

The meeting can be viewed here.

“All along, our goal has been to fund rice research and to keep the land open to the public and there is a way to do that without selling it to a private company,” said Caldwell.

Caldwell said AGFC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Arkansas Forestry Commission have all been instructed not to sign any contract that has Lobo Farms’ name on it.

The U of A Division of Agriculture released the following statement to KAIT:

“We want to reiterate what JoAnn Maxey, University of Arkansas System general counsel, said at the close of our segment of the meeting before lawmakers on Tuesday.

We are working with all parties in the case to untangle the contract. We need time for the negotiations to reach a resolution as swiftly as possible.”

St. Francis and Cross County residents are disappointed in the university’s continued pursuit of the contract.

Charles Gaines is one of several local hunters that testified against the sale during the session this spring. You can watch his testimony here.

“I just think it’s bad business what they’re doing and I think it makes them look just kind of arrogant,” said Gaines. “It seems like the university is just thumbing their nose at the legislature as well as the people of eastern Arkansas.”

Locals have been fighting the sale since finding out about it last year, saying the land has a lot of tradition and benefits the people in the area.

“The Delta region has very few places we can go and hunt. Everything around here is private and the university don’t care,” said Gaines.

The sale to Lobo Farms, or any private entity, would still need a waiver on the congressional level because the deed for the land says it must stay open to the public.

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) released the following statement to KAIT regarding the proposed sale:

“I share the concerns of outdoor enthusiasts about the loss of public lands for recreational usage so I will not support a waiver for the sale of the research station.” – Senator John Boozman.

Sen. Boozman is the Ranking Member on the Senate Agriculture Committee and the waiver for congressional approval would have to come before the committee and pass before being considered by the full Senate.

Sen. Caldwell told Region 8 News legislators are doing everything they can to stop the sale between the U of A and Lobo Farms.

“Our ability is to control their budget and we can do that, there’s a lot of money coming down the pipe that would be parked elsewhere or not sent to the University if this deed is executed,” said Caldwell.

Caldwell said the Attorney General’s office has been contacted to look into the next steps if the University does not drop the contract.

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