The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority (WAIA) will form an advisory committee and take time to develop a new five year plan and directives before deciding how best to find a new director, the board agreed at its regular meeting Wednesday (Jan. 18).
In 2011 WAIA was formed when the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District (WAPDD) was tapped to manage the authority. Mat Pitsch, who served in the Arkansas House of Representatives and Arkansas Senate between 2015 and 2022, was tapped as lead consultant on the project and then WAIA executive director. Pitsch resigned on Jan. 9 after taking a job in the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, said WAPPD Executive Director Sasha Grist.
“I think now would be a good time for us to open it up for discussion,” Grist said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We must continue to look forward, and that is with our current infrastructure and our future, looking at future grants, future projects and future growth.”
Grist said while it might be important down the road to find a new consultant or employee whose focus is achieving WAIA’s goals and objectives, it would be best to have a more defined list of those goals and objectives before deciding on whether to hire someone.
“I just don’t think we are ready to move forward with a search committee right now. I think we need a more detailed roadmap for that person,” Grist said.
Steve Vicary, WAIA board member, said the advisory committee would need to look at the past five-year plan, see what has been accomplished, what is still vital and what needs to be added.
“We have not had a five-year plan in quite some time,” Grist said. “We need to revamp that plan. We need to start looking at a five-year plan that has small wins, things that can be accomplished, small and the big picture.”
Vicary said the board needs a clear idea of what its charge is.
“Frankly, we are not here just to build a port. I think that there are a lot of reasons to have one. … There seems to be a viable opportunity for us to continue that,” Vicary said. “We also need to work through what else we need to be focusing on and worrying about.”
The WAIA Goals and Objectives released in 2016 showed the goals to be:
• Continue to Support a Regional Intermodal Port
• Continue to Promote I-49 Development
• Find additional Financial Assistance for Funding Regional Intermodal Transportation Authorities Support all Modes of Transportation
What is clear after talking with board members, Grist said, is that WAIA needs to continue.
“If we don’t have a group like this focusing on our transportation projects, highway, rail, water, there are so many details, so many projects, I fear would fall through the cracks. We need someone thinking about our region, transportation, infrastructure,” she said.
Grist said earlier this week that she and WAPPD staff are working to bring to the region officials with the Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Transportation at a roundtable April 12. A focus of MARAD is to “support the technical aspects of America’s maritime transportation infrastructure — things like ships and shipping, port and vessel operations, national security, environment, and safety.” Grist said the event will also include tours of regional ports and other transportation infrastructure.
The roundtable is part of an effort by WAIA and WAPPD to have the region receive a preferred MARAD designation.