Arkansas Waterways Commission

The Arkansas Waterways Commission was established by Act 242 of 1967, and its powers and duties were amended by Act 414 of 1973. It became a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce in 2019. The mission of the Arkansas Waterways Commission is to develop, promote, and protect the commercially navigable waterways of Arkansas for waterborne transportation and to promote economic development to benefit the people of Arkansas. The navigable waterways in Arkansas include the Arkansas, Mississippi, White, Red, and Ouachita rivers.

The Arkansas Waterways Commission is composed of seven commissioners appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Arkansas Senate. Each commissioner serves a seven-year term. Five of the commissioners represent five navigable stream basin areas of the state, and two members serve “at large.” One commissioner must be an economist. The five representing the river basin areas are recommended through organized associations as qualified persons who have demonstrated experience and interest in river development. The terms of the commissioners expire on January 14 of the applicable year. The commission has adopted the policy that the commissioner serving the last year of his or her term would be chair, and the vice chair would be the commissioner serving the next-to-last year of his or her term. An executive director administers the work of the commission.

The powers and duties of the commission are concerned specifically with navigation activities, port development, and the use and protection of the navigable streams within or adjacent to the state. In addition to coordinating efforts to promote navigable stream areas and the development of port and harbor facilities, the responsibilities of the commission include recommending to the proper officials the recreational restrictions in critical commercial navigation areas; representing the State of Arkansas in matters pertaining to the application of fees, tolls, or user charges levied or to be levied against the water transportation industry engaged in either intrastate or interstate water commerce; receiving and using any federal, state, or private funds made available for the development, use, and expansion of river transportation resources of Arkansas; cooperating with federal agencies for improvement of waterways; and contracting with the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Engineers to provide the necessary lands, easements, and rights-of-way.

In addition, the commission acquires such real and personal property deemed necessary or desirable to carry out its functions and responsibilities. It also requires all state agencies, boards, or commissions to coordinate with the commission when planning industrial, residential, or recreational zonings; operational regulations or improvements involving channel alignments; bank stabilization; and bank and adjacent land uses that directly or indirectly affect commercial navigation on any of the state’s inland waterways. The commission is also empowered to study all executive orders and legislation, state and federal, that may affect the commercial development of interstate or intrastate water transportation and to make recommendations concerning any such executive orders or legislation. Among the federal agencies with which the commission regularly coordinates are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, the Federal Communications Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2013, the Arkansas Waterways Commission worked with the Arkansas General Assembly to create the Arkansas Port, Intermodal, and Waterway Development Grant Program for public port and intermodal development. By 2016, the commission had appropriated $1.3 million in grant funds to public ports across the state.

As part of the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019, the Arkansas Waterways Commission was reorganized as a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce.

For additional information:
Arkansas Waterways Commission. (accessed November 6, 2019).

Gene Higginbotham
Arkansas Waterways Commission


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