Arkansas River project hinges on funding

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 117 views 

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System 12-foot channel project is in danger of de-authorization if it cannot attain the $180 million in funding needed for construction, the Arkansas Commission of State Lands (COSL) revealed Monday (March 5).

Associate Counsel to the COSL Cory Cox said the channel project has been placed on the “de-authorization consideration list.” Cox noted that its inclusion does not mean it will be de-authorized, but that it could be if Congress votes not to fund.

He said Arkansas Land Commissioner John Thurston and others from the COSL would attend the National Waterways Conference in Washington, D.C., from March 25-27, to “make our case for Congressional funding.”

The proposal has sat dormant for about eight years, Cox said, noting “there is some disagreement” between the COSL and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding whether or not the project has “officially begun.”

Cox said that in 2004 there was $7 million allocated for the start of the project, but it was classified as “operation and maintenance” instead of “construction-general.” The original intent of Congress, he said, was for the money to go towards deepening the channel.

“We cannot have this de-authorized, or it will be $7 million lost, $7 million wasted. And we’ve come too far for that to happen,” Cox said. “This is why we are trying to keep it alive.”

Thurston added he felt the 12-foot channel was a major drawing point for businesses.

“Businesses are looking for infrastructure. Projects like these have been going on in the nation forever, and I realize we’re in an economically challenging time for us to go up and ask for $180 million. But I believe this 12-foot channel affects the nation, and it gives businesses a better highway to transport goods. There is a lot of support for this project, and we want to see companies come to the Arkansas-Oklahoma area, stay here, and grow here. We will work closely with the Corps, not against, to see this happen.”

No representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers were present for comment.

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, and Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman were in attendance at the town-hall-styled meeting, along with representatives from U.S. Rep. Steve Womack’s and U.S. Sen. John Boozman’s offices, and a host of private business leaders.

For Mayor Sanders, the project “sounds great,” but to make it a reality, clear parameters need to be defined, he said.

“I’ve heard details like it’s for only 10% of the River. I’ve heard there are two choke-points or three. Can we identify those choke-points? Also, is it really $180 million, and can we identify those points that are not in the 90 percent, and put actual dollar figures with those? What are the true costs?” Sanders said.