Arkansas River Interests Hire Lobbyist

For years, said Brian Day, executive director of the Port of Little Rock, Ark., various leaders in and around the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) would dutifully trek to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the needs of the river system.

“We would talk to the Department of Transportation and the Corps of Engineers and say, ‘Here’s our story and we need your help.’ Men like Bob Portiss, former executive director of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa; Dennis Oakley, president of Bruce Oakley Inc.; and Scott Robinson, port director for the Port of Muskogee, Okla.,” Day told The Waterways Journal.

But this June, waterways interests along the MKARNS system decided they would be better served by having a permanent presence in Washington. “Congress is complicated,” said Day. “The representatives change with every election.”

That’s why the Port of Little Rock signed a contract with Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates for a retainer of $10,000 a month, according to local media. While the port’s board of directors agreed to the port being the official contracting agency, other agencies, entities and interests along the extensive river system will chip in with donations. These include the Arkansas River Coalition and the Arkansas-Oklahoma Port Operators Association, which represents both private and public port operators.

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Day said the coalition’s goals in Washington, D.C., will focus on three top priorities: funding of the Three Rivers Project at the confluence of the mouths of the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers; dredging the Arkansas River to a depth of 12 feet; and permanently funding preventive maintenance of the Three Rivers area so that fixes don’t have to take away from repair and maintenance of the 18 locks and dams in the system.

The Three Rivers system includes a series of structures that separate the waters of the White River from the Arkansas River and keep its channel connected to the Mississippi River via a 10-mile-long canal built 20 years after the opening of the MKARNS. Periodic high water damages these structures.

The current governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, got Congress to pass a bill authorizing the 12-foot dredging when he was a congressman, but it has never been funded.

“I’m excited that my board had enough confidence and foresight to give the go-ahead to our signing that contract,” said Day. “We feel this is a firm that can help us bring projects funding to our area to keep maintaining this magnificent system that does so much to bring our area jobs and bring us together.”