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Marina hits snag

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Little Rock businessman and state Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter seems to have a knack for hangups with regulatory agencies.

His plan to build a five-story office building at Sixth and Woodlane in front of the state Capitol has run into objections from neighbors and the staff of the Capitol Zoning Commission, who want to preserve the three-story height limitation in the area intended to prevent obstruction of Capitol views.

Just down Capitol Avenue, at the Little Rock office of the Army Corps of Engineers, plans for a Burkhalter marina on the Arkansas River are in flux because of fears that his plan could pose a danger to barge traffic on the river.

Burkhalter has proposed to build the Rock City Yacht Club on the south side of the river about a half-mile downstream from the Clinton Library. His original plan called for a fueling operation, restaurant, store and docking for about 480 boats.

State and local officials have supported the project as an economic boon. Federal agencies have raised questions about environmental and wildlife habitat, but particularly navigation safety.

The most serious objections have come from the navigation section of the Corps, which opposed the plan as originally filed. And, last week, the Coast Guard, which oversees river traffic, also said it opposed the marina because of navigation concerns.

However, a Corps spokesman said, the Coast Guard based its objection on one, but not the latest, of four versions of the marina that have brought construction progressively closer to shore from the navigation channel.

The latest plan brings the farthest extension of the marina to inside the reach of the rock dikes that jut into the river to protect the navigation channel.

The navigation channel hugs the shoreline on the stretch of the river where the marina would be built, and the Corps says maneuverability at that point is difficult for the commercial traffic, particularly in times of high water and fast current.

Mark Redder, project manager for the Holloway Firm, which is overseeing engineering for Burkhalter, said the last revision of the plan would reduce marina capacity to 400 boats. He said that would begin to approach a tipping point on economic viability of the project.

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