‘River Revival’ flotilla arrives in Fort Smith, Van Buren

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 150 views 

story and photos by Michael Tilley
[email protected]

Deepening of the Arkansas River channel and the hospitality of city residents along the river were two of the primary discussions during the Ozark to Fort Smith leg of the Arkansas River Revival Flotilla.

The flotilla began Oct. 20, traveling from Little Rock to Dumas, and turned around Saturday (Oct. 22) at Dumas to travel to Fort Smith. Link here for the flotilla schedule.

The 10-day flotilla event features a floating procession of private yachts, houseboats and cruisers from around the state with 18 vessels in the Ozark to Fort Smith leg.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which was, at the time of its inception, the largest public works project ever undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On the Ozark to Fort Smith leg, regional media were invited to join the flotilla, and traveled aboard the “Promotion,” a Little Rock-based yacht owned by Stan Hastings, and the “Southwind II,” a Little Rock-based yacht owned by Wayne Woods.

Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, praised the quality of a Tuesday night event held in Ozark to welcome the flotilla vessels and crew. She said Ozark city and chamber officials had plenty of food, the local wineries had their products, and “a great fireworks show” helped conclude the evening. McNulty said one of the more unique things about Ozark was that many flotilla crew members received from the city and chamber a cookbook of recipes from people in the Ozark area.

The hospitality was set to continue with several events in Van Buren and Fort Smith set for Wednesday night. The events includes a 5 p.m. private reception and the Drennen Scott House in Van Buren and a private dinner at the Fort Smith Riverfront Pavilion.

Hospitality is nice, but the primary flotilla function is to raise awareness of the need to deepen the river channel from 9 feet to 12 feet.

Deepening the channel is an active part of a multi-state effort to improve barge traffic. During the first eight months of 2011, traffic on the river reached 7.131 million tones, down 6% from the same period in 2010. Total tonnage on the river in 2010 was 11.394 million tons, down 2% from 2009. Record tonnage on the river system was in 2006 with 14.011 million tons. The U.S. Corps of Engineers estimates that a 12-foot channel could increase tonnage capacity on the river by up to 45 million tons a year.

Col. Glen Masset, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander for the Little Rock District, said a 12-foot depth has been authorized, but money has not yet been made available.

According to Masset, a study of the project indicates $177 million will be required to create an effective river depth of 12 feet from the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa to where the Arkansas connects to the Mississippi River. Of the $177 million, $103 million would be spent in Arkansas. According to Masset, the $103 million would pay for the following:
• $63 million for dike and revetment construction to create a “self cleansing velocity” in the river that would scour the channel and reduce silt build up;
• $26 million for dredging and blasting;
• $10 million to acquire land for rock, sand and other debris removal; and,
• $4 million for environmental mitigation.

If the project began today, it would take just under 5 years to complete, Masset said. However, he is not overly optimistic the funding will be available in the near term.

“In this current environment, this river competes with larger, more active waterways. … The chances (of funding), I just don’t see that right away,” Masset said.

On the upside, Masset said the deepening project has completed all the engineering, environmental and other necessary studies.

“Yes, if we had that (money) tomorrow, we could get to work … getting bids and moving it forward,” he said.