Hardy Mayor Louie Seibert said he was acting in the best interest of the city when he called the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism regarding a veterans memorial that was planned for Loberg Park.
"We had good reason to voice our complaints," Seibert said. "It's worth having people down on me."
Seibert said the memorial, originally planned for Loberg Park but now expected to be built in Ash Flat, could have placed the city's grant for a children's playground, already awarded by the department, in jeopardy.
"Whenever you receive a grant from Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism they are in charge of that property," Seibert said. "Whenever the state gives out large amounts of money they want to make sure it's spent right."
Bryan Kellar, director of outdoor recreation grants for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, said when the city received a 50/50 matching grant from the department and the National Park Service the city used the park property as their part of the match. The city then agreed that the park would be used for outdoor recreation in perpetuity.
Kellar said plans for park projects must be sent to the department for review. Staff determine if a project meets specific criteria.
"We wanted to make sure the memorial was supported locally and was size appropriate," Kellar said.
Kellar said the city's grant was never an issue.
"I don't think there was ever an issue where we would withdraw funds, but I think we need to come to some agreement over what is appropriate for that park," Kellar said.
Kellar said after Susan Clifford reviewed the preliminary plans for the project in late March, without project coordinator Leonard Holden present, she suggested the project be moved to another location in the city that would be more suited to a non-recreational purpose. She rejected the memorial's location but said the department would be willing to review the matter further.
The council voted to allow Holden to resubmit the plans to the department. Before completing the packet, Holden gathered letters of support from state and local officials, a letter of support signed by more than 250 area residents and a letter of support signed by each alderman.
After Kellar received the packet, he said he received several calls from area residents and politicians who said they were misled about the project and no longer supported it. The calls disturbed Kellar who said the project must have local support.
Seibert admitted that he called state Sen. Paul Miller and others about the memorial and informed them that the project had been previously rejected. Miller called Kellar as well as Seibert.
"We've had a lot of flack around here," Seibert said. "Everybody said we need (the memorial). It was the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism that turned it down. It was them, not us."
Kellar forwarded the packet to the National Park Service for further review.
"It's the city's park and they can do what they want as long as it goes with recreation," Kellar said. "It's not that we're against the memorial; we're just for outdoor recreation and parks."
Holden has changed the location for the project. Although a piece of property was offered near the intersections of Highway 63 and Highway 62/412, the memorial will be constructed in Ash Flat.
"We're just honored to have it and be able to host it," said Ash Flat Mayor Brien Nix Hall, who had signed the letter of support when the project was planned for Hardy. "It will be an incredible memorial."
The plans originally consisted of three walls made of engraved bricks purchased by area residents with names of former and current military personnel, to be constructed in a circular pattern around a flag pole. One of the walls would display plaques honoring the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
Since the project's move, the project design has expanded. Two additional walls have been added along with a bronze statue of a soldier. The memorial will be placed near the city park on College Drive on an 80-foot by 80-foot piece of property.
A committee has also been formed to make recommendations for the project and assist in gathering financial support through the sale of bricks engraved with names of military personnel. Hall and Holden are co-chairmen while Nelson Gatewood, Sharron Mathis, Charlotte Ratliff and Kim Whitten will also serve on the committee.
"I did want to put the memorial in Loberg Park but I'm not exactly disappointed," Holden said. "We've got so much more support over there from the city government and the mayor. I'm pleased with the way it's going in Ash Flat now."
Seibert said he regrets that the memorial will not be located in Hardy and he supports the memorial.
"Nobody here has ever been against that memorial," Seibert said. "It's just that (the Department of Parks and Tourism) wouldn't approve it. I'd rather it be over here, but if they want to take it to Ash Flat, that is fine."
The memorial will be called the American Veterans Memorial. It is expected to be dedicated Veterans Day 2005.
The bricks will be sold in various sizes. Prices start at $50 a brick. For more information call Ash Flat City Hall at 870-994-7324.
"This is something I think we need to get behind and support," Hall said. "I think this will be a great thing for everybody."