Little Rock Port Authority To Enter Into Quapaw Land Debate

Apr 15, 2015

Port Authority Board of Directors Chairman Christopher Mathews.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Little Rock Port Authority decided Wednesday it will formally weigh-in on the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma’s attempt to turn 160 acres near the Arkansas River into trust land. That status would exempt it from local and state control and be the first designation of its kind in Arkansas.

The chairman of the port’s Board of Directors, Christopher Mathews, said the is concern that land adjacent to port property could be developed into something that doesn’t fit into the port’s long-term growth plans. Mathews called it a watershed moment and potentially the most serious threat to the port's future expansion.

“Our point would be that not having the ability to understand what would the use of this land to be long-term gives everybody a sense of risk that it could ultimately be in a way that would diminish, depreciate, the value that has been invested in this area for the purposes of commercial, intermodal use of the land," said Mathews.

The board voted to have a letter drafted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on May 4th to convey the port’s position on the application for trust land designation. Whether the board will support the new status to land purchased in 2014 depends on future communication with the Quapaw.

“If they would sign a note tomorrow that says we assure that this land will remain in compatible use to the port authority everybody in this community will support in every way possible their right. Which they have the full right to do what they’re doing.”

Board members speculated a casino could be among developments that would harm the growth of the port and burden existing infrastructure intended for port clients. The Quapaw tribe has said a casino is not in its immediate plans. The Indian nation, formerly of Arkansas – now in Oklahoma – says it’s intended for preservation of ancestral lands. 

The port authority is not a party to any discussions with the Quapaw at this juncture but wishes to enter the conversation. The governor’s office and Pulaski County do have a formal relationship with the Quapaw over the land’s change of status that will ultimately be determined the BIA. The public comment period for Pulaski County closes May 13th.