- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Construction work is set to begin this week on two highly anticipated projects in Arkansas: a $1.3 billion steel mill in Osceola and the new $50 million museum in Fort Smith honoring the U.S. Marshals Service.

In northeastern Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe, Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore and other leaders will break ground Monday on the Big River Steel mill, which is expected to bring more than 500 permanent jobs to the area and more than 2,000 temporary jobs.

The steel mill is the only “superproject” that has qualified for state financing under a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2004 that gave legislators authority to borrow money for economic development. The state is kicking in $125 million in financing for the project.

“It’s going to be a tremendous impact on not just northeast Arkansas, but the entire state,” said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. “Big River will have more than 2,000 construction workers for approximately 20 months. So right from the very beginning, the impact of Big River is going to be substantial even before they go into production.”

The steel mill, which is being challenged in federal court by a company that operates two nearby mills in Mississippi County, will produce steel for the automotive, oil and gas and electrical energy industries. Big River Steel has until Oct. 10 to respond to the lawsuit filed by Nucor Steel, which wants to block the company from building its mill. The lawsuit also seeks a revocation of Big River Steel’s air permit.

Barring any court-ordered delays, construction is expected to take about two years.

On Wednesday, a groundbreaking ceremony is planned in Fort Smith, where a museum honoring the history of the U.S. Marshals Service will be built along the Arkansas River. Wednesday’s groundbreaking will also mark the 225th anniversary of the Marshals Service.

“The U.S. Marshals are a vital part of our pioneering past,” said Jim Dunn, the museum’s president and chief executive officer. “They played a central role in the rule of law as our nation grew to its present borders. But they were also a key in the battle for Civil Rights in the mid-twentieth century, and they currently help keep our citizens safe while working with other law enforcement agencies and other countries to securely extradite and return fugitives to custody.”

U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman are expected to attend the event, along with U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, Beebe and local leaders. The museum is expected to open in 2017.

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