Study identifies benefits in extending river navigation into Southwest Arkansas

By Quinton Bagley

Little River News

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Vicksburg District recently facilitated a navigation study, which was fully funded by the State of Arkansas through the Arkansas Red River Commission (ARRC), to investigate the potential benefits of extending navigation on the Red River from Shreveport-Bossier City into southwest Arkansas.

The purpose of the navigation study was to better inform USACE as to whether pursuing a more in-depth feasibility study for the extension would be in the federal government’s best interest.

A feasibility study would provide enough information to determine whether or not the project should ultimately be advanced for construction. A 2005 feasibility study on the extension of navigation on the Red River identified a benefit-to-cost ratio that was unfavorable to pursuing construction.

Through contract with USACE, Gulf Engineers & Consultants (GEC) conducted the navigation study by analyzing the extent of bulk commodity shipments by way of railroad freight traffic in the Red River valley and the potential for these shipments to be diverted to barge traffic through the extension of navigation on the Red River beyond Shreveport, La.

In addition to collecting railroad freight data from the Department of Transportation, GEC’s analysis incorporated research from local industry groups and chambers of commerce. The study found that approximately 10 businesses and 25 unique shipment traffic flows would possibly benefit from the extension of navigation on the Red River. GEC found that farming and nonmetallic minerals industries would also benefit from the extension.

The study considered the costs associated with constructing, operating and maintaining three locks & dams; one in Louisiana and two in Arkansas. There would be benefits associated with potential terminals at Garland and Fulton, Ark.

“There have been different studies over the past 10 years,” said Richard Brontoli, Executive Director of the Red River Valley Association. “The State of Arkansas gave the Arkansas Red River Commission (ARRC) $1,000,000 for one final effort to justify completing the feasibility study. Industries in the region were interviewed and they submitted surveys that indicated the product they can move by water and the tonnage per year. Of the $1,000,000 there is $353,262 remaining.

“The surveys were sent to the University of Tennessee to evaluate the transportation savings to the companies,” Brontoli continued. “They compare the cost per ton the way they move their product now (rail or truck) and compare it to the rate if there was a navigable waterway. For example, if a company can move 1,000,000 tons by water and save $2 per ton over their existing mode of transportation (say rail) then the benefit to the project is $2,000,000.

For a project to be justified the navigation benefits must exceed the cost of the project, Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR). For example, if all the benefits are $10,000,000 and the cost is $5,000,000 then the BCR is 2.0. Once the commercial navigation benefits exceed a 1.0 BCR we can then add additional benefits like; recreation, water supply, hydro-power and bank stabilization to secure a navigation channel.”

GEC found that the extension of navigation on the waterway could potentially save approximately $75 million annually in shipping costs. The study indicated that the benefit-to-cost ratio for the construction of the locks and the extension of the waterway was favorable, above unity. Based on these findings, USACE intends to request the resumption of a feasibility study. Dan York, ARRC, Chair, signed a letter of intent to be the local sponsor on Wednesday, February 20, 2019.

“We now have to complete the “feasibility study,” Brontoli said. “We are looking at options and cost of each. One option is for the Corps of Engineers to complete it with the local sponsor, ARRC. The cost would be 50% federal and 50% ARRC. The ARRC will be coordinating with their State delegation members to secure the funds. At this time we are not sure how much that will be or how long it will take. The other option is for the ARRC to complete the study on their own with oversight by the Corps of Engineers to be sure all criteria are met. The ARRC will have to work with the State legislators to secure the funding, which will be $2-2.5 million.”

According to Brontoli, the feasibility study will go to the Hwy 71 (Index Bridge).

“Our idea would be to have a public port at Fulton; where I-30 and railroads cross the Red River,” Brontoli said. “There will be one lock and dam in Louisiana, near Benton and two in Arkansas. Those three locks and dams will provide year round navigation to the Index Bridge.”

Brontoli added that there would be a positive impact on Little River County.

“As mentioned, it would be logical to have a public port at Fulton,” Brontoli said. “A public port is just an industrial park with water transportation, which would attract industry that can use barge transportation. The pool affect for Lock & Dam 8, near Garland would extend the pool (lake affect) past the Index Bridge. This would stabilize the river and provide for a great bass fishery and recreation, like Louisiana experiences from Shreveport south. The banks would be stabilized to ensure a navigation channel. Also, the pool would guarantee a reliable water supply for agriculture, industrial and municipal use.

Little River County Economic Development Director Vickie Williamson was very optimistic about the how river navigation could impact Little River County.

“I believe Little River County is ideally situated to be part of the transportation and distribution hub throughout the central United States and adding the option of water navigation only strengthens that prospect for the county,” Williamson said. “As the feasibility study and hopefully, construction moves forward on the Red River, the Intermodal Authority will look for opportunities to partner with and complement further transportation development.”

Leave a Reply