Intermodal authority pursuing partnership with port, shipping firms

FORT SMITH -- The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority is scheduled to meet today on whether to enter into a marketing partnership with two Louisiana port and shipping companies.

The meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District office in Fort Smith. Authority members will consider signing a memorandum of understanding with Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District and American Patriot Container Transport LLC. The term of the partnership is five years.

Mat Pitsch, executive director of the authority and a Republican state senator from Fort Smith, said Friday he was excited the Louisiana group was interested in working with the intermodal authority.

Plaquemines Port is located south of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River and provides water access to 33 states, its website said.

Plaquemines Port Executive Director Maynard "Sandy" Sanders said in a speech in November that with partner ports upriver and Plaquemines at the mouth, Plaquemines Port will "own the Mississippi River."

American Patriot Container Transit is a subsidiary of Miami-based American Patriot Holdings. Through its affiliated companies, American Patriot Holdings is committed to being the premier petroleum, petrochemical, container and dry bulk marine transporter in the country, according to its website.

The two companies would not be involved in developing an intermodal port and terminal on the Arkansas River in Crawford County. That development is one of the authority's goals, Pitsch said. But the companies could assist in helping the authority locate a port developer and operator and identify possible port tenants.

The authority, composed of Fort Smith and Van Buren mayors, county judges in Crawford and Sebastian counties, and several business and community members, has expressed interest in developing a slack-water harbor on the levee in Crawford County, as well as a railroad terminal and industrial park.

"The parties hereto believe it is in their mutual interest to establish an alliance of cooperation aimed at generating new business by promoting international and inland trade routes," a portion of the memorandum said.

The memorandum said new business would foster economic growth by increasing revenue for the three partners and help the partners grow as well.

The memorandum listed objectives as joint marketing activities, data interchange, market studies, modernization and improvements, training and technological interchange.

Pitsch and the authority have worked with the Plaquemines Port and American Patriot for months after having been introduced by port developer and authority consultant John Vickerman. The authority brought in Vickerman in 2017 to conduct a market assessment, devise a terminal development plan and send out requests for expressions of interest in the port project.

Pitsch said that earlier this month executives with Plaquemines Port and American Patriot traveled to Fort Smith to meet with leaders of four large Northwest Arkansas corporations.

Through Vickerman's work, the intermodal authority and Ports America, one of the largest port developers in the country, signed a memorandum of understanding in March. Under the memorandum, Ports America would conduct a study on the feasibility of developing a port in Crawford County on the Arkansas River.

At the same time, the authority also received a letter from Union Pacific Railroad expressing interest in the authority's plans for the industrial park and river port.

Citing new management, Ports America pulled out of the feasibility study ahead of the Nov. 1 deadline, Pitsch said. He said Union Pacific continues to show interest in the port project.

State Desk on 01/28/2019