The Army Corps of Engineers wants to end 24-hour operation of the Ouachita River’s four locks this summer. Shippers and others see it as the first step in abandoning a navigation project dating to the 1920s, reports the Associated Press.
The corps’ proposal would cut operating hours to 18 hours a day at two Louisiana locks and to 16 hours at two in Arkansas. If traffic goes up, so could operating hours, it said.
Shippers are dubious. “We think it will be the beginning of the end of navigation on the Ouachita,” Bill Hobgood, executive director of the Ouachita River Valley Association, told The News-Star.
Col. Jeffrey Eckstein, commander of the Vicksburg (Miss.) District, told shippers recently that current operations on the Ouachita cost about $10.5 million a year, but its budget was $7.2 million for fiscal 2011-12. “We don’t have the 2013 budget yet, but we’re expecting a flat number,” he said.
Terry Baugh is chief financial officer of D&J Construction in West Monroe, which has shipped rock to its river yard for almost three decades, and Ouachita Terminals, which is trying to develop waterborne traffic for the Great Ouachita Port, which has both water and rail traffic.
“Shipping companies aren’t going to make substantial investment to begin a line to our port if there’s a possibility the river won’t be navigable in the future,” he said
Camden, Ark., Mayor Chris Claybaker said he’s lost four economic development prospects during the past year because they weren’t confident the river will remain navigable.
The corps has scheduled public meetings this week and next in Camden, El Dorado and Crossett, Ark., and West Monroe and Harrisonburg, La.