story by Ryan Saylor
The port of Van Buren is expanding with the addition of a new 15,000-square-foot bulk storage building to be built by Five Rivers Distribution, according to Five Rivers Distribution President Marty Shell.
Shell, an operator at the port in Van Buren and the operator of the port of Fort Smith, made the announcement during Thursday's (July 31) Fort Smith Port Authority meeting.
"There's no AEDC (Arkansas Economic Development Commission) money, there's no grants, there's nothing out there. It just comes straight out of our pocket. But we see a heavy, heavy need for bulk storage in this area," he said.
The news that Five Rivers was constructing its own bulk storage building came at the same meeting where the port authority was to discuss plans for a new bulk storage building at the Port of Fort Smith. The new building is expected to cost between $700,000 and $900,000, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said Thursday, adding that the port authority had applied for a $200,000 grant from the Arkansas Waterways Commission in order to defray some costs of a new building.
Competing for the grant from the AWC are the ports at Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Osceola, and West Memphis, with Dingman noting that the AWC was unlikely to give a single port the entire grant but would likely split it between the five ports that had made the applications.
The largest part of the funding for the bulk storage facility is to come from a loan originating with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Dingman said, adding that if the port comes up short on the $200,000 grant from the AWC it could instead scrap plans for the new building in favor of using the money on other projects.
"There are still a lot of parts of that that are still as unknown today as the last time we talked about it, really. I think if we end up with whatever we end up and it's not enough to do our building project, then like we talked last time, we can request authorization to use it for some other type of improvement at the facility. But whatever we get, we can use. We just don't know if we can use it for … if it will be enough to make our building project work or not."
Shell said Fort Smith was the only port to request for a new building, with other ports requesting to use the so far unknown amount of grant money for river dredging and maintenance issues.
Even though the port authority is still moving forward with its plans for a bulk storage building, Shell said building an additional storage facility at the Van Buren port was a necessity for customers who need space now and cannot wait until the port authority finds out sometime in November whether it received the $200,000 grant necessary to begin construction.
"We still support, will still continue on, would still like to see the Port of Fort Smith develop a bulk storage warehouse over there, as well. But we have customers just telling us that they need something quickly and we figured we could do it privately faster than we could publicly, so we've decided to build a 15,000 square foot (facility),” Shell said.
Dirt work on the site is almost complete, Shell said, adding that Five Rivers would soon accept construction bids. He would not disclose the cost to construct the facility and added that AEDC and other funding options were not being used since the facility would not add additional jobs to the economy in the near term.
A public meeting will be held on the grant application made by the Fort Smith Port Authority, Dingman said, with Shell adding that Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, would attend to advocate for Fort Smith to receive its share of the funding. Legislation Files sponsored in the Arkansas General Assembly made the grant money available through the AWC.