Funding for a key project to protect commercial river traffic on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System is included in President Barack Obama’s 2016 federal budget, which was delivered to Congress Monday.
With many similar projects vying for funding, officials with the Arkansas Waterways Commission are celebrating the news.
"We’ve kind of hit the lottery," said Executive Director Gene Higginbotham. "There’s hundreds of Corps projects all across the country that were competing for these 10 spots and Arkansas was fortunate to get one of them for the Three Rivers study."
The $3 million study would look into a problem in southeast Arkansas, where barge traffic enters the system from the Mississippi River, moves into the White River, then across a canal into the Arkansas River.
"There’s an issue where the White River is trying to cut through to the lower Arkansas River," which is an area that is not navigable, Higginbotham said. "The (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers has basically been putting band aids on it every year and we’re looking for a permanent solution. If the White River ever manages to cut through, we would lose navigation on the Arkansas River system for probably close to a year."
Stopping the flow of barge traffic would have a big impact, Higginbotham says, with $1.3 billion worth of goods moved on the river each year. The system includes 445 navigable miles, ending at Catoosa, Oklahoma.
Funding for the study is included in the Army Civil Works appropriations. 50 percent would come from the federal government, while the remaining 50 percent would be paid for locally, with the Arkansas Waterways Commission serving as the local sponsor.
Higginbotham credits the efforts of the state’s congressional delegation, which he says realizes the importance of products being transported.
"There’s steel, aluminum, fertilizer… it’s a huge impact on Arkansas agriculture, but there’s a lot of jobs that are kind of tied to the waterways and the economic impact is actually pretty huge and very important for the state."