August tonnage up 30% on the Arkansas River, year-to-date down 17%

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 109 views 

Things are getting back to normal for Arkansas river operations. August tonnage on the Arkansas River totaled 1.22 million, up more than 30% compared to August 2014 and a clear sign that shipping is returning to normal on the river after six months of disruption related to heavy rains.

However, shipping activity is still down for the year. Tonnage shipped on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System between January and August totaled 6.355 million, down 17% compared to the same period in 2014, according to a monthly report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Arkansas River system is 445 miles long and stretches from the confluence of the Mississippi River to the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla. The controlled waterway has 18 locks and dams, with 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma. The river also has five ports: Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, Okla., and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma. 

An unusually wet end of winter and spring season resulted in river flooding that shut down a majority of lock and dam operations. Just when the cycle of wet weather from the west was ending, Tropical Storm Bill moved out of the Gulf of Mexico and dropped more than 12 inches of rain during mid-June on many areas of Oklahoma, including Arkansas River watershed areas.

According to the Corps, river flows reached 180,000 cubic feet per second, well above the typical 20,000 cubic feet per second.

Marty Shell, who owns Van Buren-based Five Rivers Distribution and operates the Port of Fort Smith and port operations in Van Buren, was not surprised about the big gain in August tonnage. He said much of the work now is to clear the work blocked by the rain-swollen river, with his operations moving more than 93,000 nautical tons during the month.

“August was our busy month due to the back log. We did 60 days worth of work in 30 days. We have some vary hard working dedicated employees,” Shell said.

He has predicted that tonnage trends will return to more normal levels during the fourth quarter of 2015.

For the first eight months of 2015, inbound river tonnage totaled 3.074 million, down 3%. Outbound tonnage was 1.844 million, down 33% for the first eight months. Tonnage shipped from point-to-point on the river (internal) totaled 1.415 million, down 15%.

Of the major categories of items shipped on the river, sand/gravel/rock is down 17% for the first eight months of 2015, iron and steel is down 8% and chemicals/fertilizer is down 7%. The only significant item shipped on the river to see a gain was soybeans. For the first eight months of 2015, 535,700 tons of soybeans have moved on the river, up 27% compared to the same period in 2014.

Without gains in the remainder of the year, the river system could see two consecutive years of shipping declines. Tonnage totaled 11.719 million tons in 2014, down from the 12.139 million in 2013 but better than the 11.687 million in 2012 and the 10.6 million in 2011.