Chamber Gets Behind Pryor’s Push for River Channel

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The Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce agrees with U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, D-Ark. plan to utilize the Arkansas River for Business.

Senator Mark Pryor was in Fort Smith Tuesday to support the 188th Fighter Wing, but that wasn’t the only thing on his agenda.

The Senator stopped to talk job growth with the chamber. They discussed plans to bring big business using the Arkansas River. The chamber says they’re making the 12ft. channel a priority to bring work to the area.

"River is a great resource,” said Sen. Pryor. “It'd be even a better resource if we had the 12ft. channel."

Senator Pryor says making the Arkansas River deeper to increase traffic will attract more businesses and boost the economy.

"We've lost some jobs in this area,” said Sen. Pryor. “Nobody is happy about that, but if you open up that 12 foot channel, it seems to pave the way for more jobs to come and replace and grow."

Marty Schell, President of Five Star Distributions, says 97% of the Arkansas River is already 12ft. deep.

"That's like having interstate I-49, 380 miles of it running through the center of the state of Arkansas, 97% completed and not opening up the interstate," said Schell.

That could be holding back manufacturers from staying and coming to the area. Both Senator Pryor and Schell say the river project already has the green light to begin. Funding the approximately 20 million dollar dredging is the issue.

"Seven million dollars has already been put into this project,” said Schell. “It was put into the Corps of Engineers’ budget. The Corps put it into operation and management instead of new project."

Senator Pryor says he and other elected officials are working to regain the money for the project.

“The Corps of Engineers’ resources are tight and it’s pretty expensive,” said Senator Pryor. “We’re trying to work with the Corps to see if we can get that number down.”