Even with an 8.4% decline and 12.2% decline in August and September, respectively, tonnage on the Arkansas River totaled 9.282 million tons through September, up 12%, according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Inbound shipments – those coming from off the river system – totaled 3.463 million tons during the first nine months of 2023, up 31% compared with the same period in 2022. Outbound shipments in the first nine months totaled 3.111 million tons, up 6% compared with the same period in 2022. Internal shipments – those sent between port operations on the river – totaled 2.707 million tons in the first nine months, down 1% compared with the 2022 period.
September tonnage of 858,756 tons was down 12.2% compared with September 2022. August tonnage was 974,263 tons, down 8.4% compared with August 2022.
Marty Shell, president of Van Buren-based Five Rivers Distribution and a member of the Arkansas Waterways Commission, said tonnage in Van Buren and the Port of Fort Smith have been steady and he’s optimistic about traffic in the fourth quarter.
“Tonnage year to date has been steady. Currently, we have issues on the lower Mississippi River and other tributary rivers, but the Arkansas River has been a shining star of the navigable rivers. With our lock and dam system, we are able to create pools between each lock. Barge freight is high due to the struggles on the lower Mississippi and causing delays of shipments for both import and export bulk shipments. We hope the MKARNS will stay strong and with grain season upon us the fourth quarter will finish in the positive,” Shell said.
Following are the top five shipment categories by tonnage in the first nine months of 2023, with the percentage change from the same period in 2022.
• Sand, gravel, rock: 3.064 million tons (up 2%)
• Chemical fertilizer: 2.087 million tons (up 42%)
• Iron & steel: 989,728 tons (up 12%)
• Minerals and building materials: 783,266 tons (up 43%)
• Wheat: 708,666 tons (down 20%)
Tonnage in 2022 totaled 11.011 million tons, up 2.94% compared with 2021. Inbound shipments – those coming from off the river system – totaled 3.463 million tons during 2022, down 12.1% compared with the same period in 2021. Outbound shipments totaled 3.957 million tons, up 16.6% compared with 2021. Internal shipments – those sent between port operations on the river – totaled 3.591 million tons, up 6.8% compared with 2021.
River traffic in recent years has struggled through historic flooding and an economic slowdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. River tonnage in 2019 totaled just 8.48 million tons, down 22% from 2018. But tonnage was up 22% in 2020 to 10.322 million tons
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 commercial ports: Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, Okla., and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma.