Arkansas Waterways Commission

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The Arkansas Waterways Commission is pleased to announce the release of the results from its 2023 Stakeholder Survey. The survey, conducted with the aim of understanding stakeholders' perspectives and identifying areas for improvement, has provided valuable insights that will shape the commission's strategic plan moving forward.

The survey, which received responses from various stakeholders across the state, played a crucial role in updating the commission's strategies and enhancing its efficiency. The feedback received will enable the Commission to better serve its stakeholders and all citizens of Arkansas.

The Arkansas Waterways Commission is immensely grateful to all the stakeholders who took the time to participate in the survey. Their input has been instrumental in the commission's efforts to continuously improve its services and ensure it is meeting the needs and expectations of its stakeholders.

The results of the survey highlighted areas of success and areas for improvement. The commission is committed to addressing these findings and implementing necessary changes to enhance its services. By conducting this survey annually, the commission aims to maintain an open line of communication with stakeholders and monitor progress over time.

The Arkansas Waterways Commission believes in transparency and wants its stakeholders to be informed about the outcomes of their contributions. By sharing the survey results, the commission hopes to foster a sense of collaboration and demonstrate its commitment to continuous improvement.

Moving forward, the Arkansas Waterways Commission will use the survey results as a roadmap for future initiatives and projects. The commission remains dedicated to providing efficient and effective services that benefit stakeholders of Arkansas' navigable rivers and all citizens of Arkansas.

Director Caldwell is in Washington, DC this week for the National Waterways Conference Legislative Summit and Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association Spring Legislative Meetings. She has been hitting the Hill to meet with all six members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation to advocate for the needs of our navigable rivers. Our partners from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (Thaddaeus Babb and Kristen Carollo) have also participated in the Hill visits to show the strong partnership between Arkansas and Oklahoma and our commitment to ensuring the success of the MKARNS for our future generations! In other news, the cherry blossoms are blooming early and they are gorgeous!

Published March 9, 2023

On January 19th, 2023, Arkansas Waterways Commission held it's first meeting of the year. This was hosted at The Port of Little Rock at 11:00am, where the attendees, commissioners, and staff could look out over the beautiful McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System for the duration.

There were a total of 20 people in attendance, including representatives from Chicot-Desha County Ports, The City of Camden, Poinsett Rice & Grain, The United States Corps of Engineers- Little Rock District, Land Trust of Arkansas, Logistic Services, INC., Central Arkansas Intermodal Authority, The Arkansas Attorney Generals Office, The Arkansas Department of Commerce, and The United States Department of Homeland Security.

Some of the topics discussed during the meeting include:
• The Arkansas River Navigation System Fund
• An update from USACE Little Rock District about the Tow Haulage Upgrade and River Mile 222 Progress (which we visited earlier this week)
• An industry, river, and grant project update from Poinsett Rice & Grain in Osceola
• Passing of the gavel from our former Chairwoman, Commissioner Phyllis Harden to our new Chairman, Commissioner Jeff Rutledge and Vice Chair, Commissioner Marty Shell.

Arkansas Waterways Commissioners

Attendees listening to Randy McNeil's presentation

Attendees listening to Randy McNeil's presentation

Chris Roark, Chief of Operations, Little Rock District USACE

Randy McNeil, COO at Poinsett Rice & Grain

Erin Cumbo, Project Manager, Little Rock District USACE

Arkansas Waterways Commissioners and Director Caldwell

Fred Long, Assistant General Manager, Logistic Services, Inc.

Dr. Don Bradley with Central Arkansas Intermodal Authority

The Arkansas Waterways Commission entered an MOA with Little Rock District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December 2019 to provide $200,000.00 for a cost-share project to develop a self-scouring model of the MKARNS Navigation Mile 222 (near Dardanelle). This area of the navigation channel is prone to heavy sediment buildup requiring frequent maintenance dredging. The Arkansas River Navigation System Fund provided the funds for this cost-share project.

This project will be completed in two phases. Phase One construction began in December 2022 and is expected to be completed near the end of February 2023.

on January 17, 2023, AWC staff had the opportunity to tag along with our partners at USACE on their Survey Vessel, Peevy, to take a look at the Phase One construction progress. This impressive structure consists of 3,400 feet of rock on the right descending bank of the River and is expected to significantly improve hydrological conditions.

Director Cassandra Caldwell, USACE Little Rock, USACE Memphis, and Contractors gather to view progress of the project in Russellville.

Director Cassandra Caldwell attended as a representative of Arkansas Waterways Commission and provided us with the moments captured below. 

AWC Director Cassandra Caldwell visiting with Dr. Norma Jean Mattei, who was recently appointed to the President's National Infrastructure Council.

Dr. Norma Jean Mattei receiving a USACE de Fleury medal in honor of her 10 years of service as a commissioner with the Mississippi River Commission. Major General Diana Holland left, Dr. Norma Jean Mattei center, and MRC Executive Director Chuck Camillo right.

Congressman Rick Crawford addressing the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association Annual Meeting.

AWC Director Cassandra Caldwell and her husband, Jon, and the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association Annual Meeting.
(Aren't they so beautiful?!)

Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Board of Directors of Helena Harbor joined Helm Fertilizer officials to break ground on the new Helm expansion at Helena Harbor on October 6, 2022. It was a warm day, but all of the speakers were fast and the mission to continue the $12.000,000.00 expansion was completed. Thanks to Governor Hutchinson, Judge Clark Hall, Mayor Kevin Smith and Arkansas Waterways Chair Phyllis Hardin, and AWC Commissioner Michael Lowe for participating today.

Director Caldwell with Commissioner Harden & Thaddeus Babb, Assistant Division Manager for Oklahoma Dept of Transportation Office of Freight Mobility and other Arkansas-Oklahoma Port Operators Association members are on Capitol Hill today and tomorrow meeting with the Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas Congressional delegations to thank them for recent robust MKARNS funding support.

Courtesy of the USACE Little Rock District, on September 2nd, 2022, Arkansas Waterways commission staff got to attend a a Labor Day Holiday safety media event and had the opportunity of touring the Murray Lock and Dam. They were educated on water safety, as well as given access to the top and the inside of the Lock and Dam.

The Arkansas Waterways Commission gathered for a meeting on September 1st, 2022 in Newport, Arkansas. Hosted by the Newport Economic Development Commission, they were then provided lunch and a tour of the future port site on the White River and the existing OMP facility opposite the port site.

Arkansas Waterways Commission is excited to announce the addition of a new team member this week! Ms. Amanda Vardaman joined the staff as our new Program Coordinator on Monday, August 15. She spent her first 2 days traveling with Director Caldwell to see the upper half of the MKARNS and get a crash course on all things waterways. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to serve Arkansans and we are fortunate to have her onboard. Welcome to the team, Amanda!

Arkansas Waterways Commission Director, Cassandra Caldwell, ODOT Waterways Program Manager, Thaddaeus Babb, and Bruce Oakley, Inc. Barge VP, Josh Childress, met with delegates at Legislative Summit in D.C. last week to discuss the top priorities on the MKARNS. Director Caldwell also spoke on the White, Red, Ouachita, and Mississippi Rivers and their priorities. In this featured photo, Director Caldwell and company were preparing to speak with Congressman Markwayne Mullin to discuss advancement projects in both Oklahoma and Arkansas.

A new executive director has been named for the Arkansas Waterways Commission. The commission board has appointed Cassandra Caldwell to take the reins of the organization.

As executive director, Caldwell will head up the state’s agency for overseeing and promoting waterborne transportation and economic development for the ports of the Arkansas, Mississippi, O

“I am thrilled to have Cassandra here at the Arkansas Department of Commerce as our Executive Director of the Waterways Commission,” Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said in a statement. “With 1,800 miles of navigable waterways, it is critical that our waterway transportation meets the needs of businesses and provides easy access to U.S. markets around the world. Her skills and experience are top notch and exactly what we need in this role.”

Caldwell is replacing Deidre Smith, the commission’s executive director since 2017. She assumes her new role on Monday, Feb. 24.

Most recently, Caldwell served as the administrative programs officer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.  She previously served in the U.S. Navy.

She holds a degree in medical and molecular biology from Rogers State University and also an associate’s degree in biology and legal studies.

Director Deidre Smith's last official order of business with the Arkansas Waterways Commission before resigning her position was to sign two memorandum of agreements with Colonel Eric M. Noe, commander of the Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). One of the agreements provides $50,000.00 to cost share with USACE on a new design for tow haulage equipment to standardize and update the existing equipment along the Arkansas segment of the McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS). The other agreement for $200,000.00 will be used to create a model designed to fix an area in the channel that seems to be a "hot spot" for shoaling at MM 222 close to Dardanelle. These funds are acquired from ad valorem taxes collected on barges traversing the Arkansas River. Both of these projects will benefit all the ports and shippers on the MKARNS.

The city of Fort Smith received a $295,000 grant to fix the port of Fort Smith after it was damaged in 2019 summer floods. 

The Arkansas Waterways Commission gave the Port Authority of Fort Smith the grant on December 13th. The deputy city administrator, Jeff Dingman, said the money will be used to fix the railroads leading into the port, the scale house, and the scales. 

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(TB&P) –The Fort Smith Port Authority has agreed to take steps to get the Port of Fort Smith back in condition to open for business. The authority signed a contract with Studio 6 Architects to render professional architectural and engineering design services to rebuild two buildings, parking and a truck scale at the Port of Fort Smith.

The facilities were damaged during record flooding of the Arkansas River in May. The contract, approved during the authority’s Thursday (Oct. 31) meeting, stipulates the cost of services not to exceed $140,000.

The port authority approved a resolution to award a contract for the cleanup and demolition of damaged facilities to Haston Recycling LLC in a special meeting Aug. 7.

Once the design work is completed, a construction manager will step in to rebuild. A contract for that service is still in negotiations. Marty Shell, Ports of Fort Smith and Van Buren operator and owner of Five Rivers Distribution in Van Buren, said he hoped that contract would be completed sometime next week.

The port authority authorized Shell to purchase and install a new scale at the port at a cost of $54,000 and to do to necessary railroad work at the site at a cost of $50,000, Shell said. To help with the costs of repair and rebuilding, the port received a grant for $295,593 from the Arkansas Waterways Commission Wednesday (Oct. 30) to “reconstruct and repair the port facility from damage caused by 2019 flood event,” Shell said.

Other grant recipients were:
• Helena-West Helena/Phillips County Port Authority — $304,028 to improve water supply for current and future tenants of Helena Harbor through the phase three of the Helena Harbor Water Improvement Project;
• Osceola Port Authority — $300,000 for port access road improvement and resurfacing;
Chicot-Desha Metropolitan Port Authority —$204,678 to upgrade the overhead bridge crane previously installed in 1995;
• Little Rock Port Authority — $167,713 for construction of a heavy equipment connector road; and
• Crossett Port Authority — $ 55,000.00 for expansion of storage space in Warehouse #2 to meet the needs of the Rescue Unit.

To read more of this article, visit our content partner Talk Business & Politics.

Halted for months by flooding, barge traffic on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System has resumed on a restricted basis, Tulsa Port of Catoosa Director David Yarbrough said.

“Typically, they are moving 12 to 16 barge tows,” he said Thursday following a board meeting of the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority. “They are limited to two wide and three deep, so they are limited to six barges.”

Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the navigation system is 445 miles long and runs from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to the Mississippi River. It supports economic activity across a 12-state region, moving 10.9 million tons of commerce worth $3.5 billion annually, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said last month.

Spring and summer flooding rendered the channel unsafe for navigation. The heavy rain also resulted in the deposit of tons of silt, necessitating a re-dredging.

When shoaling — the formation of a natural underwater ridge — occurs, the U.S. Coast Guard defines an authorized channel and marks it, Yarbrough said.

“If you get out of that authorized channel, they don’t mark it,” he said. “What happens when you get shoaling like this the channel is blocked, but we’ve found a bypass.

“So while this is blocked, we’ve found a way over here to snag a 2-by-3 tow with a little bit of work. The industry will mark that channel and barge traffic resumes. Until that authorized channel opens, we’ll be restricted, which is limited barge sizes and daylight only.”

The corps has emergency dredgers on the job, Yarbrough said.

“Unfortunately, the entire Mississippi River basin has had flooding, in some cases since January,” he said. “So dredgers are busy everywhere. There is not a lot of dredging availability right now. We’re taking what we can get.

“There still is a lot of work to do. It’s probably still going to take a couple of months.”

Flood Impacts of the River, Updated as of July 25th, 2019: 

Drone Footage of the Great Flood of 2019:

This was the first footage before it had crested: And this is the one from when it was cresting:

 Forecasted Mean Daily Flows, May DataView the PDF here

The fast flow and high water on the Arkansas River has had "devastating" consequences for river commerce, the director of the Arkansas Waterways Commission said Tuesday.

"I think [the] term 'catastrophic' is right on point," said Deidre Smith. "It's going to be devastating. I'm sure it's going to be hard getting navigation back."

Full story here:

According to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, two levees were topped on Tuesday afternoon.

McLean levee in Logan County that was protecting farmland was topped. All residents had already evacuated. As of Tuesday morning, the area of the Arkansas River in that area is at 377 feet. Flood stage is 357 feet.

Phyllis Harden, Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel, was sworn in as a commissioner to the Arkansas Waterways Commission by Chief Deputy Secretary of State Bill Huffman, Jr. on February 28th, 2019. This makes Mrs. Harden the first ever female to serve as an AWC commissioner, which is a very historic moment for our agency! We are excited to have Mrs. Harden on our team and look forward to working with her in the future.

Little Rock Port Authority Grant Reward

Mrs. Deidre Smith, Executive Director of the Arkansas Waterways Commission, presents the Port of Little Rock with a grant award in the amount of $260,000. This money will be used to enhance the Port’s infrastructure to better serve the global markets.

The White River Regional Port Authority Grant Award

The White River Regional Port Authority was recently awarded a grant for Phase II of the development of a port facility on the White River in Newport, Arkansas. The Arkansas Waterways Commission selected the White River project for a grant of $141,720.00 to be used to continue the development of access into the port site. In 2017, Phase I was funded. The first phase developed signage for the port and started the access road construction.

Phase II construction on the access road will begin in the spring and finished before the end of July 2019. This project includes working to construct the road over the levy to allow access while also maintaining flood control. The Port Authority is currently working with a company to re-establish shipping on the river by the fall of 2019.

Funding for the grant from the Arkansas Waterways Commission comes from fees generated by waterborne transportation companies active on Arkansas rivers. These fees generated by the users of the river are then allocated to assist with development of Arkansas’ navigable waterways. The White River is a navigable waterway to Newport.

The continued support of the Arkansas Waterways Commission for the work on the White River is a huge benefit to towns up and down the river. The Arkansas Waterways Commission working with the White River Regional Port Authority and the Newport Economic Development Commission are dedicated to reviving shipping on the White River.

Fort Smith Grant Award

For the first time since 1980, the Port of Fort Smith has a new building to accommodate more commerce on the Arkansas River.

A unit with 30,000 square feet of bulk storage was built over several months at the port with a $110,000 matching grant from the Arkansas Waterways Commission’s Arkansas Port, Intermodal and Waterway Development Grant Program.

“It helps us grow tonnage and secure tonnage,”said port operator Marty Shell of Five Rivers Distribution. “The last time we had a new building here was 1980. It’s brought new life to the port.”

Shell pointed out the facility was completed with no Fort Smith tax money. It was paid for with 90 percent Waterways Commission funding and 10 percent matching money from Five Rivers. In all, the facility is valued at $900,000.

Last year, the Fort Smith Port Authority received more than $500,000 from the grant program to build the facility operated by Five Rivers Distribution. Shell said the new dry storage facility is being used now for bulk storage of an animal feed product.

The Osceola River Port Authority

Years of Service: 1999 to 2018

It is with our deepest sorrow that we inform you of the passing of Commissioner William "Bill" Varner who passed away peacefully on November 21, 2018. From Texarkana, Mr. Varner represented the Red River on the Arkansas Waterways Commission. Mr. Varner was heavily involved in efforts to expand navigation along the Red River from Shreveport, LA to near Texarkana, AR. Mr. Varner is co-owner of Fulton Farms. He has served as chairman of the Miller County Levee Board #2, president and board member of the Miller County Farm Bureau and was active in the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association.

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