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Barging in and out: the $7 million Yellow Bend Port gears up for Mississippi River shipping.

OFFICIALS AT THE YELLOW Bend Port in Desha and Chicot counties are expecting to handle their first barge load of shipping during the next 60 days.

The only questions are what type of cargo the first shipment will be and whether it will be outgoing or inbound.

The $7 million project on the Mississippi River is expected to handle shipments of wood chips, logs, cotton seed, fertilizer, lime and aggregate (road base gravel known as SB-2 in the lingo of contractors).

Area boosters are hopeful that the port will one day off-load many barges of aggregate in association with the conversion of U.S. 65 to four-lane traffic from Pine Bluff to Lake Village.

Contract negotiations are nearing completion for a port operator to oversee the distribution of cargo at the 80-acre development.

The facility is already equipped with a 40-ton crane and a 10-yard clamshell bucket and 100-ton truck scales with a computerized weight system for on-loading and off-loading.

Officials are also in the midst of negotiating for installation of a conveyor system that should round out the needed equipment to begin port operations.

"If everything comes together as hoped, we should be shipping an average of a barge a day if everyone who's talking with us does what they say," says Kenny Gober, project coordinator for the port.

The port authority had an operations contract with Riverside Terminals Inc., based out of Pittsburgh and Houston. However, the company begged out of the deal.

"We let them off the hook because they lost interest in our type of facility when the company shifted its focus to ocean ports," says Sam Bowman, chairman of the Chicot-Desha Metropolitan Port Authority.

Bowman has been active with the project since 1980 and the formation of the port authority, known locally as the Yellow Bend Port Authority.

"I just fell in love with it," says Bowman, chairman of the McGehee Bank. "I go out there two or three times a week just to look at the port. It's just sort of a dream come true."

There's plenty of land available for industrial sites near the port as well. But it will likely take a sizeable company committed to setting up shop before local funds for industrial improvements could be drummed up.

The half-cent tax dedicated to fund the port by Desha County has raised about $48,000 per month since it came on line in 1991. The special two-year tax goes off the books May 11.

The port will have to pay its own way, or officials will have to find replacement funding. And McGehee Mayor Rosalie Gould is among those who believe the port will carry its own financial freight and then some.

"I think this is one of the most wonderful things that could happen to us," Gould says. "We're receiving a lot of phone calls from industries who are interested in what the port has to offer."

Gould's 11-year tenure as mayor nearly dovetails with the beginning of the port project when Desha and Chicot counties paid for a port feasibility study.

Although the Yellow Bend site received favorable nods in the early 1980s, the project was unable to move forward without proper funding.

More recently, Chicot County voters rejected a short-term sales tax to pay their part of the port's development costs. But Desha County went forward on its own.

"We are so economically depressed here that it's hard to make people understand that we need to tax ourselves," Gould says of the Chicot County "no" vote. "My thought was, 'Why cut off our nose to spite our face when someone has to bite the bullet and pay for this?"

Perseverance and political muscle from Sens. Dale Bumpers and David Pryor, both D-Ark., finally overwhelmed the initial funding woes.

Now, Yellow Bend is preparing to barge onto the scene.
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Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 10, 1993
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