Ship management company

The river valley panel was briefed on water transport plans; interstate expansion project

VAN BUREN — A Miami-headquartered company is making up for lost time on a plan to transport goods across the country, which is expected to include the River Valley.

Sal Litrico, chief executive of American Patriot Holdings, provided the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority’s board of directors with an update at its meeting on Wednesday.

The authority signed a non-binding, five-year memorandum of understanding with Port Harbor and Terminal District of Plaquemines, Louisiana and inland waterway shipper American Patriot Container Transport of New Orleans in 2019. made for the purpose of developing an intermodal port in Crawford County. as part of a multi-state initiative to ship containerized cargo using inland river systems.

Litrico said American Patriot Holdings informed Plaquemines that it would be terminating the exclusivity agreement between the two in June.

Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, executive director of the Intermodal Authority, said the agreement stipulated that American Patriot would only use Plaquemines as a port of entry for international cargo moving up the Mississippi River to the central part of the country.

“Our companies would bring their cargo to either Plaquemines or any Plan B port of entry, unload international ships to the containers that APH is building, and then bring them here,” said Pitsch Friday.

Litrico said American Patriot had negotiated with shipyards to build container ships and Plaquemines had not finalized the acquisition of the land needed for the project. This left American Patriot unable to continue to negotiate in good faith.

However, Litrico said American Patriot is in talks with an alternate port of entry in southern Louisiana that can handle a planned first phase of operations, though he did not reveal the name of the port. The phase includes the construction of four ships with the option of four more.

“Should the Port of Plaquemines complete the purchase of the land and achieve several other important milestones, we would select the best long-term options for our customers, our partners in the Midwest and for APH,” Litrico said.

Pitsch said the first phase involves shipping goods on the Mississippi River, while a second phase involves other “sister” rivers. The planned intermodal port in Crawford County is included in the latter.

American Patriot expects to be able to sign contracts with shipyards to build its ships within the next 30 days, Litrico said Wednesday. It will finalize further agreements once the shipyard agreements are in place.

Both Pitsch and Jay White, chairman of the board, praised American Patriot for ending its exclusivity agreement with Plaquemines.

“It was a great decision to start this project, to pursue it,” White said.

The proposed site for the intermodal port is divided into two areas, north and south, and encompasses 443 acres along the Arkansas River on South Arkansas 59 southeast of Van Buren. The undeveloped land is in a floodplain mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Pitsch said the intermodal authority will not work to acquire the land until American Patriot is ready for port construction.

Highway 49 Project

The authority also heard on Wednesday from state highway commissioner Keith Gibson about an expansion of Interstate 49 between Barling in Sebastian County and Alma in Crawford County. The Department of Transportation held a groundbreaking ceremony for the project in Barling on Thursday.

The project will build 13.6 miles of freeway between Arkansas 22 in Barling and the Interstate 40 and Interstate 49 interchange in Alma, including a new bridge over the Arkansas River. This will complete a connection from Fort Smith north to Canada via Interstate 49 and Interstate 29 and to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Great Lakes via Interstate 49 and Interstate 35. The new route will end up with a four lane section of US 71 around Greenwood.

The project is expected to be carried out in phases over the next “several years”, according to a press release from the Department of Transport. About $270 million of Number 1, which voters passed in 2020, will be spent on it. The measure extended the half-percent sales and use tax on state highways indefinitely when the current statewide tax expires on June 30.

Gibson said while Thursday’s groundbreaking won’t kick off construction on the project, it would be a sign of commitment that the project will come to fruition. He noted that the transportation department has numerous projects that have been delayed due to supply chain issues resulting from the covid-19 pandemic, among other issues. The ministry will have to re-bid for some projects due to inflation driving up costs for contractors who won initial bids.

“We’re going to see some delays, but hopefully we’ve gotten through that once in a while, we’re going to see less and less delays as we go forward,” Gibson said.

Gibson said he doesn’t think the delays will be a problem for the Interstate 49 project, which is “on track” for completion.

The latest estimate puts the total cost of the project at around $600 million to $700 million, according to Gibson. Bids for the project are expected to be submitted in September.

Hope-based Taylor-Hendrix LLC won an $891,453 contract to clear vegetation and debris around the Barling site that will be an interchange between Interstate 49 and Arkansas 22, the news release said.