Ports & Terminals

Fort Smith Harbor Working On Implementing $15 Million PIDP Grant

Marty Shell, president of Five Rivers Distribution, recalled the day he got a phone call from Arkansas Sen. John Boozman congratulating him on the receipt of a major grant. “I had to ask him, What grant, sir?” Shell said.

Boozman was referring to a more than $15 million grant from the Port Infrastructure Development Program for a harbor development at Five Rivers Distribution. The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority was selected to receive the grant award from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to assist with the harbor’s development. Combined with a more than $3.7 million commitment from Five Rivers Distribution, based in Van Buren, Ark., the grant brings the project’s total commitment to more than $18.8 million.

The project will build a slack-water harbor 1,000 feet long and 200 feet wide off the main channel of the Arkansas River. It will have the capacity to moor and offload up to eight barges at a time. The harbor will have about 2,000 feet of dock frontage with a 50-foot-wide concrete deck for mobile cranes.

The grant will also fund design services and project management. The concrete deck will be built above the 100-year flood level to ensure year-round operation even in the face of flooding events. The new harbor will be less susceptible to operational disruptions and damage resulting from fluctuations in the river’s flow and will significantly increase the port’s throughput capacity.

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Five Rivers has the newest intermodal port facility on the Arkansas River System. It is located at Mile 299, near Interstate I-540 and Interstate I-40, and is served by the Union Pacific and A&M Railroads. It features three handling docks, one of which is covered and served by a 30-ton overhead crane that traverses the length of the 200,000-square-foot climate-controlled U.S. Customs bonded warehouse. The Port of Van Buren is nearby, at river Mile 299, and the Port of Fort Smith is also close, located at Mile 308.

Shell gives credit to the hard workers at the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority for the success of the grant application. “My hats are off to those ladies,” he said. “They did all the legwork” in applying for the grant, he said. The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River System ports of Muskogee, Little Rock and Catoosa all submitted materials supporting the grant. “We all work together on the MKARNS,” Shell said. “We know that what’s good for Van Buren or Fort Smith is good for Catoosa. We all help one another, and I think they realize that at Corps [of Engineers] headquarters. More cargo for everyone means more federal dollars.”

The MKARNS system is currently being dredged to a channel depth of 12 feet. According to the Corps, each additional foot of draft would allow a barge to carry another 200 tons of cargo. With a consistent 12-foot channel, the MKARNS would have the capacity to carry as much as 40-45 million tons, as opposed to its current 10-11 million tons per year.