Members of the Crawford County Economic Development Committee approved a measure recommending to the quorum court a $40,000 contribution for a proposed intermodal port study on the Arkansas River in Van Buren.
Western Arkansas Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (RITA) brought the request for the study contribution to help pay for a $200,050 contract with John Vickerman of Virginia-based Vickerman & Associates.
Vickerman has worked as consultant on 67 of the 90 North American deep water ports, including in New Orleans and Chicago.
His goal would be to find an entity that would design, build, pay for and potentially operate a slackwater port in Van Buren.
Justice of the Peace Raymond Harvey, who heads the economic committee, advocated for the study.
“We have an opportunity to really change the face of our region,” Harvey said. “We’re all professionals here. We all invest in our own way … and I think that’s what we should do as a county is invest in our future.”
If Vickerman is successful in finding a developer for the port, it could potentially be completed in seven to nine years, Harvey said.
Mat Pitsch with RITA was on hand to answer questions from the committee about the project.
JP Carrie Jernigan asked about the amount of Crawford County’s contribution, and if it would not be more fitting for the smaller county to contribute less.
Pitsch noted that if the county contributes equally, it maintains equal representation on the RITA board.
“Rusty Myers and myself think it is much more important to be equal partners - the representation is the same, the board members are the same and by putting the same contributions in, you’ll be getting an equal amount of revenue back,” Pitsch said.
Myers is a RITA board member representing Crawford County.
Five bodies - including Crawford and Sebastian counties, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), and the cities of Fort Smith and Van Buren - fund RITA annually in what are supposed to be equal amounts.
Crawford County has an inconsistent history of providing its share of funding, contributing $25,000 some years, $12,000 and nothing in other years.
Sebastian County and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority have both agreed to contribute $40,000 to the proposed port project. Van Buren City Council agreed to consider it and will take up a resolution on the study on Feb. 27.
If approved by all five bodies, the study is expected to take up to nine months to complete. Vickerman provided a project production schedule that ends with him requesting expressions of interest for a port developer.
Crawford County Quorum Court will look at the measure during its Tuesday, Feb. 21 meeting.