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.
Wherever river users gather these days, the main topic of conversation likely will be the recent, historic flooding along the Arkansas River.
At the July 2 meeting of the Arkansas Waterways Commission in Little Rock, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was on the agenda to talk about the status of navigation in the flood’s aftermath. At that time, many of the locks along with McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System remained closed or were only operating in daylight hours.
Corps officials stressed that it was “very challenging to navigate” since the river channel was changing frequently due to large amounts of sediment still being moved by currents. They estimated $23 million in economic losses every day in Arkansas from flood-related closures.
There were also agenda items addressing an already massive backlog in maintenance of the river system, as well as a renewed emphasis on preparedness for future floods.
And there were discussions about the expected lengthy recovery period for the ports and terminal facilities devastated by the flooding. Even the Waterways Commission chairman himself, Marty Shell of Fort Smith, was unable to attend the meeting because he was dealing with the havoc experienced at his own port operations.
Lou Ann Nisbett, executive director of the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority, was one of the port managers attending—and listening to the discouraging reports. However, she did hear some good news: Locks No. 1 through No. 4 had reopened. Even better, Lock No. 4 (or the Emmett Sanders Lock) at Pine Bluff had resumed 24-hour operations. And a reopening of the lower sections of the river meant that barges could once again make it to the public terminal at the Port of Pine Bluff.
At the Port Authority’s June 12 meeting, Public Terminal General Manager Mike Murphy, of Watco Terminal & Port Services, reported that barges bound for Pine Bluff had been stacking up at Rosedale, Miss., since early May.
In a July 8 update on post-flood barge traffic into Pine Bluff, Murphy said the terminal received six barges during the last week in June. He said it was his first time seeing barges being pushed up the river against flows of 170,000 cubic feet per second.
Murphy also reported that the local terminal handled another five barges during the first week of July before river flows jumped back up to almost 300,000 c.f.s, which briefly delayed arriving barge traffic. But he said the terminal is finally seeing barge movement again. However, he added, there is still a significant downstream backlog of barges for Pine Bluff—but “they are moving to us this week.”
Murphy noted that inbound rail traffic at the terminal is fully operational after a brief halt while a levee rail cut was plugged as a precaution to protect the Harbor Industrial District from potential flooding.