Ports & Terminals

McKellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Kicks Off 50th Anniversary Year

The Tulsa Port of Catoosa was still in the grip of the polar vortex February 19, but that didn’t stop port and state officials from kicking off the beginning of the year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) with a (virtual) news conference.

Starting February 22, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) began a series of social media posts called “MKARNS Mondays” on its Facebook and Twitter channels, @OKDOT, which will provide facts and photos of the system.

The February 19 virtual event also marked the resumption of operations at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, after they were suspended by icy conditions caused by the recent arctic blast. Port director David Yarbrough said most vessels in the port were on standby during the deep freeze, but only as a precautionary measure, not because the ice was too thick. Yarbrough said the ice was between 4 and 6 inches. He told guests at the virtual news conference that traffic would resume as temperatures warmed and the ice melted.

Col. Scott Preston, Tulsa Engineer District commander, said lock operators chipped ice off the gates and lock walls during the deep freeze.

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The MKARNS is a 445-mile waterway that includes the Verdigris, Arkansas and White rivers and connects Oklahoma from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to the Gulf of Mexico.  MKARNS officially was dedicated June 5, 1971, by former President Richard Nixon. Here is a link to Nixon’s speech that day.

The state will highlight the MKARNS system through a variety of means leading up to the official 50th anniversary date in June.

The port authority offered up a series of “fast facts” about the system:

• The waterway is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and works through a series of 18 locks and dams, five in Oklahoma, that allow barges to manage the 420-foot change in elevation over the system.

• The MKARNS serves a 12-state region and is designated as Marine Highway 40 by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

• The MKARNS is the most westerly inland river system in the country, providing an ice-free shipping channel all year.

• There are three public ports in Oklahoma: the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, the Port of Muskogee and the Port of Keota, among other private ports on the system.

• Ports in Oklahoma process more than 6 million tons of cargo each year, support more than 11,000 jobs and directly contribute $1.6 billon to the state’s economy.

• In terms of tonnage, the most shipped goods on the MKARNS in a given year are sand, gravel and rock; chemical fertilizer; iron and steel; and soybeans.

• The system helps generate clean energy through hydropower plants, provides flood control and includes key recreational areas for visitors.

• The first bargeload to the Port of Catoosa in 1971 delivered newsprint.

“The [MKARNS] system has become a critical component of our transportation infrastructure and enhances other freight modes in our state, such as rail and truck commerce, moving raw materials and finished products across the country and throughout the world,” said Tim Gatz, Oklahoma secretary of transportation and ODOT’s executive director.