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FORT SMITH -- A marketing partnership the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority signed Monday will open the door to partnerships with other inland ports as the authority continues with efforts to develop an intermodal port on the Arkansas River in Crawford County, an authority official said.

The authority voted unanimously to sign a five-year nonbinding memorandum of understanding with New Orleans-area Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District and inland waterway shipper American Patriot Container Transport LLC of New Orleans.

Authority Executive Director Mat Pitsch said the relationship with the two entities will lead to other memoranda of understanding with ports in their networks, such as St. Louis; Memphis; Kansas City, Mo.; Cairo, Ill.; and ports up the Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. The authority also could lead to marketing agreements with organizations such as the Soybean Council.

Pitsch told the authority members that he expected to present as many as three additional memoranda of understanding for their approval in the near future.

Executives with Plaquemines and American Patriot visited representatives of four large Northwest Arkansas corporations two weeks ago, Pitsch said. He said they were surprised the area had such a large market for freight.

"They found a whole lot more freight in our region than they thought," he said. "At the end of that visit, they said, 'We would like a memorandum of understanding with you.'"

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

American Patriot Container Transport is a subsidiary of Miami-based American Patriot Holdings. It is developing a vessel specially designed to carry land-sea containers on inland waterways.

The memorandum of understanding said it was in the parties' mutual interest to establish an alliance of cooperation aimed at generating new business by promoting international and inland trade routes.

That was the same wording used in a March memorandum of understanding Plaquemines signed with St. Louis Regional Freightway and four St. Louis-area ports in a public-private alliance, according to an article on American Patriot's website.

The intermodal authority's memorandum of understanding listed objectives as joint marketing activities, data interchange, market studies, modernization and improvements, training and technological interchange.

The authority has been working with port developer and consultant John Vickerman to search for an entity that would partner with the authority to develop a rail terminal, slackwater harbor and industrial park east of Van Buren on the Arkansas River.

The authority entered into a memorandum of understanding in March with Ports of America and received a letter of interest from Union Pacific Railroad to study development of the port. Ports of America pulled out last fall when the company sold, but Union Pacific remains interested, Pitsch said.

Authority Chairman Jay White said Monday that it was too early to speculate whether this memorandum with Plaquemines and American Patriot will advance the goal of developing the port but that he thought the partnership was a viable project.

Western Arkansas Planning and Development District Executive Director Sasha Grist said the agreement was another step forward in marketing the port idea. The next step, she said, will be to start looking for a port operator.

Plaquemines and American Patriot would not be involved in developing a port in Crawford County, Pitsch said.

So far, Grist said, she and Pitsch have been talking to people with whom Vickerman has provided introduction as part of Vickerman's 2017 agreement with the authority to conduct a marketing assessment, devise a terminal development plan and send out requests for expressions of interest in the port project.

Grist and Pitsch said they have not had to send out the requests for expressions of interest because those interested from Vickerman's introductions have been contacting them. If the interest slows or prospects don't pan out, Grist said, the requests for expression of interest will be sent out.

State Desk on 01/30/2019

Print Headline: Group signs pact for partnering with port entities

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