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.

Effective Sept. 1, the public terminal at the Port of Pine Bluff has a new operator. That new operator, Watco Transloading LLC, is also the previous operator of the terminal under a lease agreement that expired Aug. 31.

The months-long process of selecting a new manager of operations officially began with an advertised request for bids in mid-June by the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority, which owns the 20-acre terminal complex in the Harbor Industrial District.

The port authority subsequently analyzed submitted proposals and notified Watco in July that its bid had been chosen. Attorneys for both sides then worked for weeks with authority board members and staff to negotiate an acceptable new contract based on Watco’s bid proposal and the authority’s specifications, including an increase in monthly lease payments. It was the first major adjustment in terminal operations agreements since 1995.

The latest terminal lease agreement is for 10 years — expiring Aug. 31, 2027 — and provides Watco as the operator an option to extend the lease for four additional periods of five years.

Among the new lease’s provisions, Watco agreed to maintain all fixtures and improvements currently located on the terminal premises. The agreement also identifies a total of 13 capital improvement projects that will be addressed on an as-needed basis. The operator agreed to “use its best efforts to follow and communicate progress” on them to the authority.

The authority also will continue seeking grant opportunities that can be applied in support of the new agreement’s maintenance terms.

The terminal, established in 1969, is a public river-rail-truck facility for the handling and storage of large volumes of waterborne cargo. Located on the Arkansas River slackwater harbor in Pine Bluff, it supports numerous companies in the area and provides an overall economic impact in the millions of dollars.

Watco Transloading operates locally as Watco Terminal & Port Services. Mike Murphy, terminal manager since 1996, will continue as terminal manager. “Since Watco became operator of the facility a couple of years ago, I have seen a consistent willingness for this company to invest in the facility infrastructure, operating equipment and personnel,” Murphy said. “The company is very growth oriented and I look forward to new opportunities that will arise from such a diverse organization,” he added.

The port authority is an affiliate organization of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County.