An intermodal planning and design advisor contracted to assess the feasibility of a river port in Van Buren will provide area representatives with a progress update on Wednesday at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
John Vickerman of Virginia-based Vickerman and Associates was contracted in April to perform a request for expressions of interest and targeted market assessment for an inland port and intermodal project on the Arkansas River in Van Buren.
Representatives of the five bodies that contribute to the Western Arkansas Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (WA-RITA) will have a public meeting with Vickerman on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to hear an update on his progress.
WA-RITA, which is overseen by the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, facilitated a $200,050 contract with Vickerman to perform the study.
Crawford and Sebastian counties, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA), and the cities of Fort Smith and Van Buren, paid an equal portion of $40,000 toward the contract. Vickerman gives his monthly updates to the five bodies.
Vickerman, who has worked as consultant on 67 of the 90 North American deep water ports, is tasked with finding an entity interested in designing, building, paying for and potentially operating a slackwater port in Van Buren.
Crawford County Justice of the Peace Raymond Harvey, who chairs the Crawford County Quorum Court Economic Committee, will take part in the update with Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap.
Vickerman will bring those attending the meeting up to date on the five tasks, or phases, he was set to perform and answer questions from the five contributing bodies, Harvey said.
“The question I want to hear is, what is the vibe, what kind of interest is out there and how many industries do we have the possibility to draw to our region because of the port,” Harvey said.
Harvey said the end goal of Vickerman’s project is to find industries that would benefit financially from having an intermodal port in the region that would be willing to invest in the development costs.
“If built, our port would be the most centered deep-water port in the United States,” Harvey said.
In addition, the port would be built alongside the Union Pacific railroad, one of only eight Class I railroads in the United States, which would allow for easier and more inexpensive shipment loading and unloading.
According to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, railroads are classified based on their annual operating revenues. Class I railroads operate at an annual revenue threshold of $447,621,226 or more.
Vickerman provided a timeline in which his assessment would conclude at the end of nine months.
In a previous interview, Harvey said the port potentially could be completed in seven to nine years if Vickerman is successful in finding a developer.