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Bradford County commissioners go to Arkansas: Local officials learn about tourism promotion, energy policy

TOWANDA – At their meeting on Thursday, the Bradford County commissioners discussed various matters related to gas drilling, including their recent trip to Arkansas, where the Fayetteville Shale natural gas reservoir is located.

Bradford County commissioners Doug McLinko and Mark Smith and Progress Authority Executive Director Tony Ventello traveled to Arkansas from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7, spending a full 1 1/2 days in the southern state, McLinko said.

“This was one of the best trips I’ve ever gone on for fact-finding,” McLinko said. “We learned a ton.”

While in Arkansas, they met with municipal economic development official Brad Lacy to find out how Conway, a city of 50,000 located near the center of the state, draws in tourists and other outsiders, McLinko said.

They also met with the executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, with county commissioners, and with Lawrence Bengal, who is the director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, McLinko said.

“We know we won’t be a large tourist destination,” so the Bradford County commissioners wanted to see how Conway, which is also not a big tourist draw, went about promoting itself, McLinko said.

It was “very impressive” what Conway did, McLinko said.

“They took steps to find out who they are” and what their strengths and weakness are, and then they found a “niche” they could fill to draw in outsiders, McLinko said.

To bring in visitors to Conway, numerous air conditioned gyms and softball and baseball fields in the Conway area were designated for youth athletic tournaments, and those tournaments are now held throughout the year, he said.

The tournaments draw in teams from throughout Arkansas, and they keep the hotels full in the Conway area, McLinko said.

McLinko, who serves on the board of directors of the newly established Bradford County Tourism & Promotion Agency, said he would like Bradford County to go through a similar process to find various ways to draw in tourists and other visitors.

In related news, Arkansas Electric Cooperative adds wind capacity.

McLinko said that visiting Conway reinforced his belief that Bradford County is now “on the right track” in the way it will be promoting tourism.

Compared to the Marcellus Shale, the Fayetteville Shale is much smaller — only 18 miles wide and 80 miles long — but it plays a big role in Arkansas, McLinko said.

In Arkansas, when people have a problem with the natural gas royalty checks they are receiving, they don’t hire a lawyer, he said. Instead, there is a state agency to handle those kinds of complaints, he said.

In a related matter, McLinko said he wanted to caution local residents about hiring law firms from outside the area to help them if they feel their royalty payments are too low.

There are law firms that are making deals with Bradford County residents where the law firm is to receive a large chunk of the royalties as payment for months or years if the law firm wins the case, he said.

“Be careful about what you are doing. It could affect the royalties on your property for a long time to come,” McLinko said.

The newly established Bradford County Tourism & Promotion Agency might hire a consultant that specializes in business development and tourism, said McLinko, who serves on the agency’s board of directors.

The consultant is interested in developing a “blueprint” for the county, he said. Part of the process of creating the blueprint involves “bringing everyone together and finding out what our strengths and weaknesses are,” McLinko said.

McLinko referred further questions about the possible hire of the consultant to Smith, who has been in contact with the potential consultant. Smith was absent from Thursday’s meeting of the commissioners because he was “very sick,” McLinko said.

The trip took place after Southwestern Energy invited the Bradford County commissioners to tour the Fayetteville Shale, which is what McLinko, Smith and Ventello did during part of their visit, McLinko said.

McLinko’s and Smith’s expenses for the Arkansas trip were paid by Bradford County, while the Progress Authority paid Ventello’s expenses, McLinko said.

The Review was unsuccessful in its attempts to reach Ventello on Thursday for comment for this story.

James Loewenstein

This article was written by James Loewenstein from The Daily Review, Towanda, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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