Ports & Terminals

Tulsa Port, MKARNS To Celebrate Anniversary

This year, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa celebrates two closely related but distinct anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) and that of the port itself, which sits at the head of the system. 

The anniversary of the MKARNS will be marked this year June 4, to commemorate the June 5, 1971, speech by President Richard M. Nixon that formally opened the system. Nixon began his speech by noting that the famous “cowboy philosopher,” political commentator and newspaper columnist Will Rogers once mocked infrastructure bills coming out of Congress by saying he could get a harbor built on the Verdigris River.

 “Today,” said Nixon, “the people of Oklahoma and Arkansas got the last laugh on Will Rogers,” as their states now qualified as “maritime states,” with tremendous benefits for farmers and local manufacturers.

That last laugh was repeated in 2019, when the port doubled its land area by acquiring 2,000 acres for port development in Inola, Okla., on the Verdigris River. 

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This year, a number of elected officials are expected to speak at the June 4 anniversary event, to be held at the port. Among those who have committed to appear are the mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, and the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma, Matt Pinnell.

It’s hoped that some of the senators and representatives can also attend and speak. But Sheila Shook, who is in charge of workforce and education programs at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, said she was not sure who would attend, since they are involved in ongoing negotiations in Congress over President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan and the Republicans’ counterproposal. “Our senators are tied to that infrastructure bill. We may need for them to stay in Washington, D.C., and work on that bill!” she said. “We would like to have them here, of course, but it may be more important for them to stay. This port needs an infrastructure bill!”

The port continues to advocate for a 12-foot channel for the river system, although it does not need to wait for that for new developments. About 90 percent of the port’s commodities are agricultural, said Shook, including grains and fertilizer. “It is one-fifth the cost sending wheat and soybeans by barge rather than truck,” Shook said. 

The port already handles break-bulk cargoes as well, and it is currently in negotiations to take advantage of container-on-barge developments, with WATCO’s Tuloma Stevedoring operating the general dry cargo dock serving the Verdigris River portion of the MKARNS in Oklahoma. 

“We feel we have the best facilities for that here,” Shook said of container-on-barge.

The public dock, 720 feet long with a 230-foot-wide concrete apron, is equipped with an assortment of forklifts and cranes, including a 200-ton overhead traveling bridge crane. All can transfer directly between barge, railcar and truck.