Port Hits Stride After Years of Work

by John Henry  on Monday, Aug. 20, 2007 12:00 am  

The slackwater harbor area contains 600 acres, 300 acres of it developed, but it is restricted to water transportation users only.

The port handles about 600,000 tons by barge each year, Latture said, and he expects that when Welspun is up and operating, that tonnage will increase by 250,000 to 300,000 tons.

The largest amount of cargo handled by docks at the port terminals is steel and metal products, Latture said. That includes steel, aluminum, steel coils and wire rod coils. The largest single commodity is scrap steel, he said, most of which is going to the Nucor Corp. plant near Blytheville on the Mississippi River. Other major commodities at the docks include cement and waste oil.

Latture is quick to point out the energy and cost efficiencies of barge transportation if time is not a major factor. A barge can hold 1,600 tons of cargo, compared with 160 tons for a railcar and only some 25 tons or so for trucks.

The Arkansas Waterways Commission makes it easier to understand. It says the cost per ton mile for a barge is only 97 cents, compared with $2.53 for rail and $5.35 for trucking.

The port authority's railroad handles 12,000 to 13,000 railcars a year, Latture said. Again, he estimates that once the new plants are up and running, that figure will increase to between 18,000 and 19,000 railcars each year.

He said he's now advertising for bids to upgrade the more than 12 miles of mainline track in the industrial park and double the size of the marshalling yard.

Looking Ahead

Maulden, Chesshir and Latture said some other solid prospects have inquired about locating at the port.

Recent authorization by Congress for a 12-foot channel on the river, Latture said, will allow for 40 percent more tonnage on the same barge. And that, he said, will allow the Little Rock Port to compete on a more even level with the towns along the Mississippi River.

The Port Authority operates on a budget of $1 million annually. It receives no tax money and makes its revenue through the unloading of railcars and barges. Some income also comes from leasing vacant lots to farmers to grow crops.

The switching railroad's staff of five, including four crewmen, makes up more than half of the Port Authority's work force of eight employees.



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