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.

In the midst of the catastrophic May-June flooding on the Arkansas River, officials at the Port of Pine Bluff’s public terminal predicted that it would be “all hands on deck” at the terminal when river conditions improved. Were they ever correct!

Because of the flooding, May and June tonnage through the terminal was off from previous months, especially in June when barges were stacked up at Rosedale, Miss., and couldn’t navigate upriver.

By July, when river traffic was moving again and the tremendous backlog had begun heading north, the rush was on at the local terminal to unload the numerous arriving barges that contained more than 25,000 tons of fertilizers, vermiculite and steel wire rod.

The scramble was on at the same time to transload about 3,500 tons of a customer’s raw materials inbound by rail.

In fact, the total of 28,870 tons of commodities handled in July broke a monthly record that has stood since September 2004. It also helped put the terminal on track to post a record annual total not exceeded since 2006. With five months left to report, year-to-date tonnage through the terminal facility currently totals 101,809 tons.

Terminal Manager Chad Lester of Watco Terminal and Port Services made that report at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority. He also projected that total tonnage moved through the terminal should reach 130,000 tons by the end of 2019. That’s the amount coming the closest to 2006’s total of 145,000 tons.

In his report at the meeting, Watco’s general manager overseeing Pine Bluff operations, Mike Murphy, said the recent approval of the terminal as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) subzone of Little Rock is crucial to the flow of commodities here. He said the first FTZ load had been received and stored at the terminal and, going forward, the designation will play a critical role in supporting the terminal’s customers.

Murphy also reported that Watco has spent $1.2 million this year on terminal improvements, and he is currently working on a new five-year capital plan that will address other needed maintenance and upgrades.