The McClellan-Kerr Navigation System that connects the Port of Catoosa — the nation’s furthest inland seaport — to the Gulf of Mexico is “a hell of a mess” after the area got nearly 20 inches of rain in May and June, port director Bob Portiss tell’s the Tulsa World.
As the Tulsa World‘s Casey Smith reports, shipping barges couldn’t get in or out of the port between May 9 and June 28:
That’s 51 days with no barge activity, and by extension no movement of cargo via the waterway.
“It’s the longest period of time in the history of the port that we haven’t been able to ship cargo,” spokesman Jeff Yowell said.
In mid-June, StateImpact reported on how closed shipping lanes on the navigation system were compounding problems getting the states’ wheat harvest to out-of-state markets, and Smith’s reporting provides a good example:
Gavilon, a worldwide grain producer with farms across the Midwest, chose to store its grain instead of shipping at a higher cost. Phil Guettermann, Gavilon’s manager at the port, said the company’s strategy was to store the grain and to hold off the remaining harvest.
“We have much better access to water than rail,” Guettermann said. “So it’s the most economical to ship through the Port of Catoosa and waterway.”
But the historic rains haven’t just caused headaches for the ag industry, or lost revenue for the port authority. There’s also damage to the waterway itself that will need to be repaired before normal operations can fully resume.
A filled-to-capacity waterway saves homes and businesses from what would otherwise be flood waters. But the water causes damage to the waterway itself in the form of silt buildup, called shoaling, which limits the required 9-foot depth of the channel for water transport.
One of the known shoals the Corps is working on is at Robert S. Kerr Lake, located on the waterway in Oklahoma and near Sallisaw and the Arkansas border, Beard said.
It will take around 2½ weeks to open the channel once the dredge the Corps orders has arrived, Beard said. He estimates it will cost $1 million to clear that single shoal.
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