Potential shipping of containerized freight on the Arkansas River out of Crawford County has been postponed until April 2022 to allow for “relay” of a new system of shipping containers to Asia and Europe.
The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority voted Jan. 28 to sign a five-year non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with New Orleans-area Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District and inland waterway shipper American Patriot Container Transport LLC of New Orleans.
The agreement is hoped to lead to partnerships with other inland ports as the authority continues with efforts to develop an intermodal port east of Van Buren.
Sal Litrico, CEO of American Patriot Holdings, explained to authority board members in July that his company is a “whole new system” of container shipping that includes a gateway terminal in Plaquemines, La., and allows for shipping to strategic Midwest ports, to the lower Mississippi River, and ultimately to Asia, Europe and other foreign ports. Plaquemines Port is located south of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River and provides water access to 33 states, according to its website.
Containers would not be shipped on typical barges but rather on new vessels designed to carry a high volume of containers that are much easier to navigate, Litrico said.
“The innovative and patented design, developed by Naviform Consulting and Research Ltd, is owned by American Patriot Holdings LLC (APH). The design includes two U.S. Patents, with additional patents pending in Europe and Asia. The first patent includes the Exoskeleton Hull Structure, which significantly reduces the lightship weight allowing for maximum container payload. The second patent includes the Minimal Wake Bow Structure which allows the vessel to transit upriver, against a 5 mph current, at speeds of 13 mph with essentially no wake,” the website for the port company states.
American Patriot Holdings was expected to finalize memorandums of understanding with high profile beneficial cargo owners in western Arkansas by Aug. 15. Shipping out of the Crawford County port was expected to be underway by the end of 2021.
Authority Executive Director Mat Pitsch told authority board members Wednesday (Oct. 9) that the large shipping company APH was negotiating with other parties to take containers to Europe and Asia and wants to delay the start until the end of the first quarter 2022.
“Freight from here will go to Plaquemine Parish. From there it will go on big ocean carriers,” Pitsch said. “It’s kind of like a relay. You have your BCOs (Beneficial Cargo Owners) negotiating with ACH to take to somewhere like India or China. That great big shipping company told APH the last quarter of a year is not time to start something new.”
Because of that delay, there was a delay with memorandums of understanding with area beneficial cargo owners. Pitsch said he believes ACH already has those MOUs with beneficial cargo owners in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith, but those have not been made public yet. He expects to be notified of those within weeks. The next step then will be for the authority to negotiate MOUs with an intermodal operator.
“We are going to provide access for an entity to come on the river. We are going get someone to come build an (intermodal facility), and they are going to build based on the amount to be shipped from the facility,” Pitsch said.
In order for an operator to build an appropriately sized facility, they have to know the amount of shipping in and out of the facility. That is why the authority has to wait to hear from APH concerning the cargo owners they have agreements with and the amount of cargo they will ship.
Pitsch expects an agreement to be signed with an intermodal operator for the construction and operation of a facility by the end of this year.