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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: 50 Years at Greers Ferry

Fifty years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy was in Arkansas to dedicate Greers Ferry Dam in Heber Springs. In his remarks that day, he noted the rapid population growth taking place in the United States. It was his generation’s responsibility, he said, to make sure that the necessary steps were taken to conserve the country’s natural beauty for future generations living in urban populations.

Today, one of those places is Greers Ferry Lake. In fact, more than seven million Americans visit it annually, making it one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ five most popular lakes in the nation. And those visitors come because it’s one of North America’s cleanest, clearest and most pristine lakes. Without a doubt, Greers Ferry confirms Arkansas’s reputation as the Natural State.

Certainly the Greers Ferry Project fulfilled the duty of conservation, which JFK spoke of so passionately. But the project, and other infrastructure projects like it, weren’t just the right thing to do at the time - they were truly investments in the future. Greers Ferry Dam has had a decades-long impact on Arkansas’s economy. It is an example of the achievements that are possible when political leaders work together for the good of their constituents. These cooperative actions have a positive ripple effect that also helps our state and our nation.

Visitors come to Greers Ferry to enjoy the recreational retreat the dam has created. But the return on our investment goes beyond tourism. The dam’s primary purpose was and still is flood control. Since its completion, the Greers Ferry Project has regulated more than 80 floods on the Little Red River. The accumulated flood losses that the dam prevented are estimated at more than $50 million. The dam also supplies us with clean energy in the form of hydroelectric power. Through 2012, Greers Ferry has produced $64 million worth of electricity.

As thousands gathered to celebrate the dam’s 50th anniversary, the historic contrasts were impossible to ignore. Fifty years ago, our federal government and the Arkansas Congressional delegation led the way to strengthen our state’s infrastructure and economy. Sadly, this week’s ceremony almost didn’t happen because of the federal shutdown created by the current U.S. Congress. If not for the many volunteers who came in at the last minute to ensure that the event went as planned, it would’ve become another victim of the failure of leadership in Washington.

President Kennedy never got to witness the positive results he predicted would come from the Greers Ferry Dam Project. His visit to Arkansas was one of his last public events before his assassination seven weeks later. JFK was a fervent steward of our nation’s future. The work he and his fellow Americans achieved, by cooperating together, led to greater prosperity for all of us. That is what government is supposed to do, work through differences and solve problems. We owe the same opportunity to the generations that will follow us, and we can only create it for them by working together with respect for the democratic process.