Ark. Mayor Says Anti-tremor Measures Could Stop Development

January 22, 2008

A new Arkansas state law is intended to keep buildings from falling down if a big earthquake strikes in the New Madrid Fault Zone, but Blytheville Mayor Barrett Harrison says the law could keep the buildings from ever going up.

The state’s new seismic code requires buildings to be capable of withstanding a 2,500-year event.

Harrison told a civic club that California’s code only calls for buildings to be able to withstand a 500-year event.

“When we go out and try to recruit industry, they already know about the earthquake threat here,” Harrison said. “All of those companies have done enough work to know that we’re on the New Madrid fault. But we’re still in a very competitive situation. It gets down to dollars and cents most of the time.”

He said that if a company is considering putting an operation in northeast Arkansas or some place that doesn’t have an earthquake problem, “and it’s going to cost a million more dollars to build a facility here that’s earthquake proof, we may very well lose the industry.”

He said another mayor in the region thinks his city lost an industrial prospect because of the seismic code.

“None of us and none of those buildings are going to be here in 2,500 years if we have (an earthquake) or not,” Harrison said. “I just hope that we’ll get people in not only Little Rock, but Washington, to take a more serious look at this.”

He said he and other members of the Great River Economic Development Foundation would lobby legislators at a hearing Jan. 28 at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis, asking for a code change.

“What we’re asking them to do is to study the situation, determine whether or not a 2,500-year event is the right way to approach it,” Harrison said. “Maybe have restrictions that aren’t so tough on certain types of buildings that are used for different things, have fewer people in them and things like that.”

He said that if everybody has to build to protect against a 2,500-year event, “the cost of building would be so high that we would be out of the economic development business from now on. I think that’s how serious a problem this is.”

Information from: Blytheville Courier News,

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