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A plan to begin shipping freight containers on the Arkansas River to a port in Crawford County has been postponed until April 2022, officials said Thursday.

The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority, the Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District in Louisiana and inland waterway shipper American Patriot Container Transport LLC of New Orleans had planned to begin the shipment of what they called "containerized freight" on the Arkansas River by the end of 2021.

But those plans were pushed back on Wednesday, authority board members said.

The oceangoing freight carrier that would take on the freight shipped from a Crawford County facility told American Patriot Holdings "they would not be ready for business until the first quarter of 2022," said state Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith.

"Because that took place, American Patriot Container to rewrite their contracts to not start 'til next year," said Pitsch, the authority's executive director.

The authority on Jan. 28 voted to sign a five-year memorandum of understanding with the intent of developing an intermodal port east of Van Buren as part of a multistate initiative to ship container freight using inland river systems. In years past, Pitsch said, Crawford County has only been able to ship "breakbulk cargo" -- shipping sand, food grains or minerals -- with barges.

American Patriot Holdings has developed patented river vessels, unlike traditional barges, that can carry many freight containers upstream or downstream. According to its website, there are two vessels, with the 595-foot long "Hybrid" model used for Mississippi tributary rivers. They are marketed as offering cost efficiencies for shippers that import or export cargoes of dry goods, chemicals, agricultural products and refrigerated or frozen foods.

Pitsch said this mode of transportation is being used in Europe "because it's cheaper than rail or freight." There is no such system in North America.

Port authorities in Memphis; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo., and others are preparing to handle containerized freight, Pitsch said.

Currently, American Patriot Holdings is negotiating freight contracts with big ocean carriers who requested more time to adopt the shipping container model.

"We were all still on schedule for the end of 2021, but in order to get everything with the overseas shippers, they asked to move it," said Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap, an authority board member.

"I'm sure when it gets to coordinating between the tributaries to the Mississippi and Plaquemines Parish and what goes through there, there's a whole lot more to the logistics side than I'd know," Gilstrap said. Plaquemines Parish, near New Orleans, is the southernmost point of Louisiana.

Pitsch said the authority is awaiting confirmation from American Patriot before developing and constructing a facility to handle containerized freight.

Salvatore Litrico, chief executive officer of American Patriot, did not immediately respond to messages left Friday for comment.

Business on 10/11/2019

Print Headline: Container shipping plan put off until '22

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