Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.


Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, was in Little Rock last week as a guest of the Arkansas Waterways Association (AWA). About 30 AWA members and guests were in attendance at the June 12 lunch meeting where they heard Larson’s update on national waterways issues.


Attendees included two representatives of the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority: Lou Ann Nisbett, executive director; and Phyllis Harden, the port authority’s vice chairman who is employed by Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel. Also attending from Jefferson County was State Rep. Mike Holcomb.


As an advocate since 1995 for public and private support of Arkansas’ waterways resources, AWA is currently working to increase its membership base and conference attendance. So, too, is the National Waterways Conference (NWC). Based in Arlington, VA, the 58-year-old NWC is the leading national organization advocating for funding, policies and laws that recognize the benefits of the nation’s water resources infrastructure.


UPCOMING WATERWAYS MEETINGS


The Arkansas-Oklahoma Port Operators Association (AOPOA) will hold its annual membership meeting and navigation workshop Sept. 4-6 in Catoosa, OK. This group promotes the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.


The 2018 annual meeting of the National Waterways Conference will be held Sept. 12-14 in New Orleans.


Larson is scheduled to be back in Arkansas on Nov. 7 and 8 as a speaker for AWA’s 2018 annual meeting in Hot Springs. She’s on that program to talk to a wider audience about current federal legislation, including the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018. WRDA authorizes federal water infrastructure projects and programs.


Registration information about any of these annual waterways meetings can be found on the respective websites.


BARGE TRAFFIC UP LOCALLY


Commodities moved through the Port of Pine Bluff’s public terminal facility in May 2018 were generally the same as usual. The major difference between previous months and May, however, was in the quantity of materials received.


In fact, the May total of just over 15,500 tons was the best monthly tonnage number since June 2011. It was also a significant increase over April’s total shipments of 10,241 tons.


Fertilizers, vermiculite and steel rods accounted for most of the commodities that came into the terminal in May. Those three categories, arriving by river barge for local industries, accounted for about 80 percent of total cargo handled by the terminal in May, according to reports from Mike Murphy, Pine Bluff terminal manager for Watco Terminal & Port Services, which operates the facility for the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority.


Regarding the terminal’s main customer, Murphy noted that “everyone is still uncertain of the potential negative impact of Section 232 tariffs on our current inbound steel commodities.”


The remaining 20 percent of May’s total tonnage consisted of raw materials that came in by rail and were trucked to a Dumas manufacturing customer that is steadily accounting for an average of about 3,200 tons monthly.


In addition to efforts to expand the public terminal’s customer base, Watco is continuing a program of facility improvements and expanded capabilities that it began in 2016. Murphy also reports that Watco is currently exploring capital costs to install some food-grade commodity bin storage for a customer and exploring potential expansion of the rail spur system into the facility.