Little Rock Gets Supplemental Dredge Money

Last month, the Little Rock Engineer District got $26.7 million in supplemental funds for restoring river infrastructure from the floods of 2019. It is a first installment of a total of $119 million the district will receive, part of the   Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 signed into law by President Donald Trump in June.

According to Jay Townsend, spokesman for the Little Rock Engineer District, the district will receive $29.4 million in the second quarter of FY2020, $38.3 million in the third quarter, and $19.8 million in the fourth quarter. The fiscal year begins on October 1.

Townsend said that while extensive surveys of the Arkansas River have been done over the past few months, including many in response to towing industry reports of shoal areas, he wasn’t sure that the whole river had been surveyed.

Towing companies are still observing self-imposed tow limits on some parts of the river. The contract dredge Venture is currently dredging at Mile 222 of the Arkansas River.

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One advantage Arkansas has over Oklahoma in dredging its part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS), said Townsend, is that Arkansas is allowed to dispose of dredged material in the water.  It often does so to build up islands and other habitat for endangered species like the least tern. Oklahoma, by contrast, must dispose of dredged material on land.

While most of the supplemental money will go to dredging the Arkansas River, not all of it is required to be used for dredging. About $1 million of it, for example, can to go restoring Corps campgrounds and other property damaged by the floods, said Townsend. However, the funds must all go toward restoring infrastructure to its prior condition. Any efforts to reconfigure or change it to be more resilient to future flooding is another conversation, said Townsend.

In addition, the district has another $10 million of Flood Control and Coastal Emergency (FCCE) funds set aside by Arkansas funding under Public Law 8499 that the district can use to repair six levees (out of 42 total) that are part of the Corps’ Rehabilitation and Inspection Program.  The Corps has estimated that a total of $109 million is needed for levee repair alone.

The FCCE funds cover 100 percent of the costs of repairing levees that were both federally built and part of the program; if they were locally built but joined the federal program, the federal government offers an 80/20 cost match.

Both the Corps and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson have strongly recommended that levee districts consolidate to take advantage of federal assistance.

Port Of Little Rock

Despite much of the MKARNS being closed for 57 days in 2019 due to the floods, Bryan Day, executive director of the Port of Little Rock, said the port is on track to meet or slightly exceed 2018’s total of 687 barges moved, which was a record.

Day attributes that result to two factors. When the floods hit, the port had about 70 barges in its harbor that could continue to be worked despite the floods. And the port handled barge cargoes that would normally have gone further upriver, but that were unloaded and shipped by truck from the port.