Port's barge work on slow roll in July
But rail system cranks out revenue
July is typically a slow month on the docks at the Port of Little Rock, but last month was particularly lethargic with just 11 barges worked.
The total was three fewer than the same month in 2020. Cargo handled across the docks also fell, dropping from 21,000 tons to 16,000 tons year over year.
At the same time, the port's biggest revenue generator -- rail traffic -- had its busiest month in July, according to James Firestone, the port's operations director.
Welspun Tubular's pipe manufacturing facility in the port factored prominently in the bad and the good.
Bryan Day, the port's executive director, noted that July was the first month Welspun received no inbound shipments of steel coil since 2008.
Welspun's fortunes fell in January on the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. It had won an order to produce more than 1 million feet, or 190 miles, of 26-inch pipe for the project.
Much of the pipe already had been produced and was waiting to be shipped when the new Biden administration canceled the transnational project with Canada over environmental concerns The lack of inbound barges meant empty barges were in short supply and, as a result, delayed scheduled loadings of other products ready for outbound shipment, Day said. Intermittent closing of locks on the Arkansas River for routine maintenance also was a factor in the slow month, he said.
However, the port's rail system enjoyed a banner month, also in part because of Welspun.
"Welspun also had their best month so far this year," according to Day, thanks to another project in Canada, called the NGTL pipeline.
The company shipped out 263 rail-car loads of steel pipe in July, he said. Day said Welspun also will begin shipping for a Texas project next month.
Other companies at the port, including Hormel, Novus and Prospect Steel, also enjoyed strong months, port officials said.
The port switched 636 rail cars in July. It also generates revenue from storing rail cars. It had 173 cars in long-term storage in July.
The rail activity helped the port generate more than $200,000 in July. Total revenue last month was $324,194, well above the $249,000 budgeted and outpacing July 2020 revenue by $139,000.
And as poor a month for barge activity that the port had, the number of barges worked for the year is just 13% off last year's pace, Firestone told members of the port authority board.
Through the first seven months of 2020, the port has worked 213 barges and handled 317,000 tons of cargo. In the same period last year, the port worked 244 barges and handled 370,000 tons of cargo.
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, of which the port is a part, handled 889,000 tons in July, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates and maintains the system. Almost 40% of the tonnage was sand and gravel, or 337,601 tons.
For the year, the system has carried 6,026,897 tons, which is a 2% decline compared with what it carried in the first seven months of 2020, according to the Corps.