Still recovering from flood

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Image: Five Rivers Distribution

Posted January 14, 2020

“What took three to four days to destroy, may take three to four years to rebuild,” Marty Shell said while expressing concern about the customers the Port of Fort Smith has lost due to the flooding in the spring of 2019.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Shell explained the reason for an $8,000 increase from a bid to move scales to the port. The price of moving the scales and the sales tax was not anticipated. Due to the scales needing a wide load designation, the Port Authority needed to get special permits for each state as well as flags and other designations for the truck carrying the load.

The Port Authority allotted $50,000 for the plan to rebuild the railroad bridge, and anticipates additional aid from FEMA. However, Shell did not want to exceed the allotted amount just in case FEMA funds do not come through.

In order to repair the railroad, the Port Authority has already received the rail and rock for the track work leading up to and including the bridge. The initial bid was $35,000 to replace 60 ties, the tent, the whole track, and to reopen the stretch of railroad. However, there was more damage at the bridge than anticipated and it cost an additional $6,000. The flood also destroyed some decking that will cost approximately $7,000 to replace. As of this meeting, the Port Authority is under budget on this project.

Shell refuses to invoice the Port Authority for work that has yet to be completed as a part of his commitment to a job well done.

“Once we finish each of these projects, I go out there and physically walk it with the inspector to check it,” Shell said. He also checks with the railroad company as well as documents the progress of the project by taking pictures along the way.

Currently, all movement is going through the Port of Van Buren but the Port Authority is keeping the numbers separate so that they can still track customers of Fort Smith separately from those of Van Buren. Shell admitted that Van Buren was one of Fort Smith’s major customers and they have not had any business since last year’s flood.

Another possibility is that trucking rates are down and barge rates are up. Shell believes some customers are taking advantage of this to save money in the short run. The rates are up because fewer barges are pushing up the river due to showing areas and the draft in the river. Shell estimates that they are pushing half the number or barges they were before the flood.

“Tariffs have really, really hurt us tremendously since 2017,” Shell stated.

According to Shell, 2017 was a hard year, 2018 was a little better, but 2019 was the hardest due to the combination of the flood and tariffs.

Due to customers changing modes of transportation, it could take years to recover and get the barge movement. Shell suggested that since these customers lost money when the barges got stuck up river they are going to be slow to come back.

Source: swtimes.com