For Port of Little Rock, Victories Keep On Coming
The Little Rock Port Authority has been enjoying a steady drumbeat of wins—to the point that it is using up its available land and is looking for more.
On May 31, the port authority was notified that it had been awarded a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation/FRA. The Port of Little Rock Freight Rail Capacity Improvement Project will add 11,215 feet of track in two critical locations: the Slackwater Harbor and the North Marshaling Yard. The project will provide much-needed extra capacity for both river and rail operations and increase revenue to support operations at the public port.
The project also includes an engine maintenance facility to house the railroad crew and the two locomotives operated by the Little Rock Port Authority Railroad. Among its many benefits, according to the port’s executive director, Bryan Day, the project will facilitate freight movement by more environmentally friendly modes, improve safety for all users, reduce congestion on area roadways and reduce demurrage and improve efficiency of operations for port industries.
Tenants and Jobs
The port announced April 20 it had reached an agreement with W&W/AFCO Steel, the largest steel fabricator in the country, to locate a production facility there, bringing in an additional $18.7 million in investment and creating 115 full-time jobs.
This announcement came on the heels of a March 29 announcement that plastics manufacturer Synthesia Technology of Barcelona, Spain, was building a $29 million facility on 15 acres at the port. It will be Synthesia’s first factory in the United States.
Last October, decking materials manufacturer Trex announced it was investing $400 million over a 5-year period to build a plant at the Port of Little Rock, creating 500 jobs (WJ, Nov. 1, 2021).
Other tenants include Amazon, Waste Management and Delta Plastics, plus international companies such as Indian drilling-pipe manufacturer Wellspun and the North American headquarters of Czech gunmaker CZ-USA.
All those tenants have been attracted, not only by the favorable business climate and strategic location of the Little Rock region, but by the steady growth and development of the port itself.
The Little Rock Port Authority has been awarded a total of $9,219,218 in federal grants in 2021-2022, beginning with the Department of Homeland Safety/FEMA Port Security Grant award in August 2021.
In August 2020 the Department of Homeland Security Cyber and Infrastructure team, along with personnel from the Arkansas Homeland Security and Preparedness Agency, conducted a Security Assessment at First Entry (SAFE) evaluation at the Port of Little Rock. Although port staff members have regularly participated in U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Security meetings, the SAFE evaluation was the first one of its kind at the Port of Little Rock.
The $570,000 Port Security Grant is intended to address some needed security measures the SAFE assessment identified. The Little Rock Port Authority Surveillance Integration Project will install new security cameras at all port-owned infrastructure, with eyes on the water as well as structures, and install cameras with license plate reader capability at the two entrances to the “wet port,” to provide one seamless, integrated system controlled by the Little Rock Port Authority to provide 24/7 security at the port.
In December 2021, the Little Rock Port Authority was notified of a $3,079,845 Port Infrastructure Development Grant award from the U.S. Maritime Administration. The Little Rock Port Authority applied for the grant under the Small Projects at Small Ports category.
The Port of Little Rock Mooring Upgrade Project will restore and expand the port’s current barge fleeting capacity on the Arkansas River, which is part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigational System (MKARNS). The project will replace 15 unsafe deadman ground anchors that are near the end of their useful life with steel monopile dolphins and install an additional 32 dolphins in other locations.
The Port of Little Rock continues to pursue an active land acquisition policy and is currently in negotiations to acquire another 509 acres. Over the past five years, the port has acquired approximately 2,000 acres to help with its growth and expansion. One of the exciting aspects of the land acquisition program, Day said, is the future development of a 1,000-acre supersite that the port will begin marketing in late 2023.