Lavaca slackwater harbor study ongoing

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 151 views 

While the Army Corps of Engineers and the Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (RITA) are both encouraged by the future of the Lavaca Slackwater Harbor Project, the project could still be at least four years away from completion with two of those years spent trying to agree on the best site.

Tricia Anslow, chief of the Planning and Environmental Division with the Army Corps of Engineers, confirmed that the Corps is conducting a feasibility study to determine if the project is a sound economic decision.

“Our initial looks told us that it is indeed worth analyzing in more detail,” Anslow said.

So that’s what the Corps is doing now, and that consists of, according to Anslow, “looking at the engineering aspects of it, at cutoff channels and things like that where it would make sense to put a slack water harbor.”

Anslow continued: “We’re looking at the economics to see if a new slack water harbor would be beneficial. We’re looking at potential designs and estimating the cost of construction. We’re also looking at the environmental impacts of introducing such a facility. These are all factors that have to be worked out before we can make a recommendation on whether we have a suitable site—one that can be built upon to justify the cost of construction.”

When asked to define the cost of construction on a slack water harbor in the Fort Smith region, Anslow noted that “early indications were broad” and came in “at around $7 million to $10 million.”

“But those numbers can definitely change with deeper analysis,” Anslow added.

This “deeper analysis” is underway, and could cost more than the $100,000 federal allotment being used for the feasibility study. For every dollar over the $100,000 the federal government has provided to conduct the study, Anslow noted the Corps would share the costs with RITA, the group acting as “the financially responsible” partner on the project.

“We anticipate signing the cost-share agreement (with RITA) in July,” Anslow said.

In February, RITA Intermodal Project Manager Mat Pitsch said the Corps was considering “five key areas: the area around 8th Street (Fort Smith); Chaffee Crossing; Vache Grasse Public Use Area in Lavaca, The Landing at Ozark, and Highway 59 on the north side of the (Arkansas) River.”

Anslow said the Corps is still considering multiple locations, and it is not leaning to any one specific area at this time, and it could be a while before one is determined.

“I don’t think we have a firm timeframe yet on when the feasibility study will reach completion. We’re past the initial hurdle to determine whether the project is worth analyzing in more detail. If our project team determines there are significant environmental impacts, it could take much longer, but it (feasibility study) is typically a one-to-two-year process,” Anslow added.

Anslow said one year would be “overly optimistic” in determining a location.

“There’s still quite a bit of planning involved,” she said.

Part of that planning will consist of gauging reactions from existing industries.

“What’s important to understand, when we’re evaluating economics, is that we’re not just looking at the potential for new industry, but also at what would switch to water transport from rail and road. We’re looking at businesses that would switch. Most of our correspondence (with industry) so far has been through RITA. One of our next major steps is to talk with industries in the feasibility study period, and RITA may facilitate that” Anslow said.

The Corps has sent out “requests for information” to companies that typically move commodities: “The Tysons, the Walmarts, and small businesses, too,” Anslow added, while noting it’s still too early to tell which companies would utilize such a facility.

“There’s not a dollar amount or benefit we’re looking for right now (from these companies). We just want to design the best fit for the site location, and it’s a course of action we can go back and alter as we move forward,” Anslow said.