ULM to conduct economic benefits study of the Ouachita River Basin

Courtesy: Ouachita Green

MONROE, La. (North Louisiana Economic Partnership NLEP) - The North Louisiana Economic Partnership has presented ULM a $30,000 check to fund an economic impact study of the Ouachita and Black Rivers.

The study will assess the economic impact of the Ouachita-Black River system from South Central Arkansas to North Central Louisiana. It will be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the goal of maintaining the water levels and hours of operation of the rivers.

“The Ouachita River has historically been a major economic channel for commerce and economic development in Northeast Louisiana,” said Scott Martinez, CEcD, NLEP President. “Manufactured products, agricultural commodities and raw materials are barged up and down the Ouachita River headed to national and international destinations. NLEP and local partners are doing everything we can to keep the Ouachita River navigable.”

The Ouachita-Black River Economic Impact Study will be conducted by ULM Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) to assess the economic benefits of the Ouachita River Basin. The results of the 12-month study could play a key role in keeping the Ouachita River navigable.

“I applaud NLEP and Mr. Martinez for their support of this project,” said Dr. Nick J. Bruno, ULM President. “The rivers are vital components of our current and future economic base. This study will provide an indication as to the financial impact they have.”

Barge traffic on the Ouachita and Black Rivers is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi by a system of four locks and dams that maintains the navigation channel at a depth that allows for barge traffic year-round.

The locks and dams operate along 337 miles of waterway, keeping the navigation channel at a minimum depth of 9 feet and a width of 100 feet from the Red River north of Camden, Arkansas.

Continued federal funding for the lock and dams is vital to keeping the Ouachita River navigable, and this economic impact study will be an important tool in efforts to maintain the level of funding for the Ouachita and Black Rivers waterway system.

"This study will be the first step in putting a true value on the Ouachita River," said Randy Denmon, President, Ouachita River Valley Association. "Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers only recognizes a river's value based its transport tonnage. The Corps does not recognize that the Ouachita River is a source of potable water for the region or is a receiving body for the hundreds of commercial and public discharges into the River. This economic impact study will present the Ouachita River's true value, aiding in our efforts to obtain funding for all aspects of the River."

Reduction in the level of service at the locks over the past three years, the lack of dredging, and lower demand due to the economy have reduced the amount of tonnage on the river system. With tonnage dropping below 1 million tons annually, the Ouachita waterway is considered “low use.” Competition for limited federal funds could jeopardize the operations of the locks and dams along the Ouachita-Black Rivers, placing the waterway in “care-taker” status.

“If that happens, navigation on the Ouachita River would become very difficult during the dry season,” said Terry Baugh, Executive Vice President, Greater Ouachita Parish Port. “The Port serves businesses throughout Northeast Louisiana who rely on barge traffic to transport goods or raw materials to market. The ability to use the Ouachita River is critical to these companies and to our economy as a whole- without which our community looks less attractive to companies considering locating here.”