Fort Smith legislator paid almost $700,000 on port concept. A waste, says one evaluation. | Arkansas Blog

Fort Smith legislator paid almost $700,000 on port concept. A waste, says one evaluation.

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ONE WINNER: Rep. Mat Pitsch has made plenty of money working on a port project that has yet to come to fruition. One authority thinks it's a waste of money.
  • ONE WINNER: Rep. Mat Pitsch has made plenty of money working on a port project that has yet to come to fruition. One authority thinks it's a waste of money.
Here's an economic development project that has produced economic benefits for at least one person — Republican state Rep. Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith.

In eight years, some $1.6 million in public money has been poured into an Arkansas River port project — the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority — but nothing tangible has come of it. In that time, reports Aric Mitchell for Talk Business and Politics, Pitsch has received more than $696,000 in pay, consulting fees and expenses. Pitsch responds that the writer should consider the pay came over eight years and he has had to pay taxes on his income and bear the cost of his "family's benefits package." Fortunately for him, state legislators can buy very affordable health insurance from the state for themselves and family while drawing, as Pitsch did, almost $70,000 in 2016 in state legislative pay and per diem payments.

The unrealized project is now the subject of a consultant's study. Someday local officials might stop throwing good money after bad. Or perhaps not. What if this is the next Fed Ex, suggests County Judge David Hudson, who still seems a booster.

An experienced river operator, Eric Lind, analyzed the project for Talk Business He told reporter Mitchell that the project never made sense. It's a waste of money, he said. He details the logistics of shipping that work against the port.

“It is difficult to imagine any potential value for any shipper or transportation company serving this market area in sufficient volume to warrant investment in a dedicated intermodal river port. In fact, there is no reason to suggest that containers can be moved efficiently by barge on the inland river system.

He also notes that other ports on the Arkansas River (pay attention Little Rock) also demonstrate the problem.

Lind also said the four slackwater harbors now on the Arkansas River have a combined occupancy of 15%.

“Little Rock’s slackwater harbor, completed in 1988 and with substantially greater existing industry and surrounding infrastructure, handles no waterborne intermodal freight,” Lind said.
Lind says local governments should cut their losses.

“The proposed NWA Regional Intermodal River Port project is a ‘field of dreams’ and should be abandoned immediately. Sadly, this should have been recognized shortly after conception, prior to wasting $1.6 million in taxpayer’s dollars.
Mat Pitsch, who got nearly half the money, presumably would disagree, at least as to $696000 of that expenditure. And he is vice chair of the House Small Business and Economic Development Subcommittee.


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