Van Buren-based Five Rivers invests $1.2 million in expansion, stores raw material from China, Russia

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 192 views 

Marty Shell, president of Van Buren-based Five Rivers Distribution, addresses a crowd gathered for a ribbon cutting of $1.2 million in recent investments at the port facility.

In a Five Rivers Distribution warehouse in Van Buren there is literally a boatload of antacid for dairy cows. The powdery stuff comes from China. Don’t confuse it with the powdery phosphate in an adjacent warehouse. That stuff is from Russia and it’s destined for use in chicken feed.

“You never know what we might have here, what country it came in from or the state where it’s going,” said Marty Shell, president of Van Buren-based Five Rivers.

Shell, whose company also operates the port of Fort Smith in addition to his port facility in Van Buren, has in the past six months invested $1.2 million at his Van Buren operations. Most of that was to build three warehouses that add 45,000 square foot of bulk storage space to a facility that also includes a 120,000-square-foot climate-controlled warehouse and another 16,000-square-foot bulk warehouse.

“They are all brand new buildings and they are all full,” a smiling Shell said Tuesday (May 10) during a Van Buren Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting ceremony for the expanded facility.

Five Rivers was founded by Shell’s father, Buck, in 1996. Marty said the company has invested $7.2 million in the Van Buren operations in those 20 years. The company employs 17 people.

One of the new warehouses is almost full of magnesium oxide, or Magox. It is used to deter gas and bloat in dairy cows, Shell said. It comes from China and will end up in dairy farms in Colorado, Arizona and a few other states. The smaller (10,000 square foot) of the new warehouses now holds phosphate from Russia. It will be used in chicken feed for distributors in several states, including Missouri and Texas.

“We’re a regional distribution center for customers from China and from Russia,” Shell said. “This (Magox and phosphate) hits the port in New Orleans, comes up to us by barge and … goes out of here by rail and truck.”

The Arkansas River in recent months has returned to normal, although recent rains have slowed traffic a bit, Shell said.

Thanks to unusual amounts of rainfall in 2015, tonnage on the Arkansas River was down 15% compared to 2014, and fell below 10 million tons for the first time in at least four years. Information from the U.S. Corps of Engineers shows that 9.962 million tons were shipped in 2015. 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.

For the first quarter of 2016, river tonnage totaled 2.942 million tons, up 5% compared to the same period in 2014. Inbound tonnage is down 8%, outbound tonnage is up 8% and internal (shipments between ports on the system) is up 32%, according to a Corps report.

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.

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