WAIA working to prepare new intermodal port with innovative transport

Ty Thompson
Press Argus-Courier

The West Arkansas Intermodal Authority has focused on a new intermodal port for the better part of 11 years and has partnered with Florida company American Patriots Holdings in order to bring their new innovative transport vessels to the area.

The Authority met with American Patriots holdings back in 2019 who, at the time, was developing a port in Louisiana. The company has been developing a system that includes a gateway terminal in Plaquemines, Louisiana with a new innovative container on vessel design.  

Mat Pitsch, Arkansas state senator and executive director of Intermodal Authority, says transportation through the port will not be like what we see today.

"What the new school of thought is that we would carry containerized freight," Pitsch said. Currently, river cargo includes gravel, chicken feed, and things that aren't in a container.

"With American Patriots holdings we would carry containerized freight in a much faster time frame than the traditional tug and barge vessels we have now," Pitsch said.

The vessels produced by American Patriots can cut the time on the water by almost 60% which Pitsch says is very close to truck and rail transportation at a cheaper price.

The new vessels are also able to transport refrigerated goods and the Authority has been in talks with OKFoods, Tyson, and Simmons about workingtransporting products they normally wouldn't be able to on the river. 

Currently, American Patriots is focusing on the port in Louisiana and have been negotiating contracts with inland ports along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.

Locally, The Authority has focused on what needs to take place for them to negotiate deals with the port operators along the river.

In April 2020, the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority received a $360,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration to conduct an environmental study to better understand the effect the port will have on the river and surrounding area, which is currently underway. The grant also provides funding for engineers to estimate future costs and utility needs.   

Five locations in the area were considered for the new port and a decision was made to place it off of Highway 59 where, as Pitsch puts it, there is an off-ramp. The port will be located on the Van Buren side of the Arkansas River and will service companies in Van Buren, Fort Smith, and the surrounding areas.

"It veers off the river channel and heads straight north," Pitsch said.

Pitsch believes that when the port is operating, more companies could move into the area to utilize the quicker and cheaper transportation.

"It's a prime economic development region," he said. "We're ready for the pieces to start falling in place."