A conceptual study plan for an intermodal facility in Crawford County, which will be presented at a Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority (WAIA) study session in January, offers three planning scenarios for a future intermodal facility.
In a report presented to WAIA April 7, Pickering Firm, Inc. and Moffatt & Nichol ststated their research shows that a new facility “could provide a new intermodal option that would compete with traditional rail and truck options for facilitating inbound and outbound cargo movements from the region” if the port utilized containerized freight shipping that would carry high value goods and shipped more than once a week.
The conceptual study plan was their next step by Pickering and Moffatt & Nichol and contains a development program and draft conception scenarios. Final plans will not be completed until a port vendor is found and tweaks any ideas, said Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith. Pitsch serves as the WAIA executive director.
The three main concepts defined for the facility include a river serviced multi-use port; rail and river serviced multi-use port; and a rail and river serviced container port. The first scenario would divert cargo from trucks to inland waterways. It provides a phase approach to build up to maximum terminal throughput, allows for support of heavy cargo industries such as wind and project cargo, provides flex open storage for container and heavy cargo and provides river access to support the growth of an economic development area.
Scenario two would divert cargo from truck to rail and inland waterways. It provides a phase approach to build up to maximum terminal throughput, allows for support of heavy cargo industries such as wind and project cargos, and provides rail and river access to support the growth of an economic development area.
Scenario three would divert container cargo from truck to rail and inland waterways. It maximizes land use in support of a container operation and is optimized to support a container operation, handle up to three design shallow draft vessels per week and minimize the cost of container handling equipment.
Using elements of the defined concepts, a minimum viable concept was identified that could provide some “entry level” river services for incoming vessels, the report said.
Pickering and Moffatt & Nichol reported that a minimum viable concept that would only include a portion of the south area of the studied future site and the harbor would have an estimated cost of $78.455 milion. This estimate includes necessary contingencies, the report states. The minimum viable concept includes development of the harbor and a portion of the south area – a paved area of 70-acres including 28-acres for container storage and 23 acres for empty containers. The estimated cost for development of the harbor is $22.777 million. The estimated cost for development of the south area site is $58.679 million.
The third scenario using containerized shipping is one that WAIA has been pursuing. The containerized shipping would be more comparable to cold storage shipping available through rail or truck shipping, just on the water, because the containers would be equipped with electricity, which allows cooling capacity, Pitsch said.
“We are not trying to cash in on the freights of the other ports,” Pitsch said. “This would be completely different freight.”
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 has said. They estimate the port in Plaquemines Parish to be completed in 2022.
American Patriots holdings would carry containerized freight in a much faster time frame than the traditional tug and barge vessels in use out of area ports now, Pitsch said. The vessels produced by American Patriots can cut the time on the water by almost 60% and they only sink into the water about two to three feet, meaning the river would not need to be dredged in order to allow for transport, Pitsch said.
“We don’t really care about the depth of the channel. These things are like jet skis shooting on the river,” he said.
American Patriots is in the process of finding a vendor for their inland river ports. Pitsch said ideally WAIA would contract with the same vendor who is with at least some of the other ports along the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers that America Patriots is contracting with, including in Memphis, Cincinnati and Kansas City. That vendor would be who actually builds the port and would be the one responsible for making the facility IOS certified, he said. Vendors or tenants also would be needed for the economic development area of the plan, he said.
A WAIA study session to discuss the report is scheduled for Jan. 10 at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.