Progress continues to be made on an inland port and intermodal facility in Crawford County, according to Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, and the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority (WAIA) executive director.
Pitsch told the WAIA board during a Wednesday (Oct. 14) meeting that the authority is working with two companies on obtaining an environmental assessment and an engineering study on a site for the planned facility in Crawford County.
In July, the authority agreed to issue two requests for quotes (RFQ) in August for work to complete an environmental assessment begun by the Arkansas Corps of Engineers in draft form for WAIA of the area they hope to locate a port and for the engineering study. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment was started five years ago, Pitsch said. There are two engineering studies of the site, one by the corps and one private, but the authority needs a more detailed study.
“The first, the one by the corps, was like at 10,000-foot level. It gave a broad look at what we would need,” Pitsch said. “The second brought that down to 5,000, but we still need to determine things like roads, railroad tracks all the stuff an intermodal facility would need.”
The authority announced in April that it had applied for and received a $450,000 Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to prepare the design of the port and facility and to conduct the environmental assessment. The grant is an 80/20 matching grant, meaning the EDA will provide $360,000 (80%) and WAIA is responsible for remaining $90,000 (20%). Each of the four entities that are owners of WAIA — Fort Smith, Van Buren, Sebastian County and Crawford County, contributed $22,500.
The RFQs garnered lots of attention, Pitsch said, with several companies submitting quotes. The authority board narrowed those to two winners, one for each component. Now, WAIA has to meet with both the companies to make certain they can do the work within the budget constraints of the EDA grant, he said.
“The board scored them the highest, but they have not awarded any contracts. Both have been out to the site, and now they have to submit their proposals,” Pitsch. “We need to see if they can do what they said they can for the right amount of money.”
Once those are submitted, the board will meet to decide if they will be awarded the contracts.
The WAIA voted in January 2019 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 for shipping of containerized freight on the Arkansas River out of Crawford County. That shipping has been postponed until April 2022 to allow for “relay” of a new system of shipping containers to Asia and Europe.
The company has signed a letter of intent and an MOU with a company for overseas freight transport from the port in Plaquemines Parish, La., Pitsch told the board Wednesday. They estimate the port in Plaquemines Parish to be completed in two years. He told the board work in Crawford County needed to align with the Louisiana start and finish dates as much as possible.