Congress Allocates $27 Million For MKARNS

Speaking at the Oklahoma Governor’s Water Conference on December 2, Col. Scott Preston, commander and district engineer for the Tulsa Engineer District, said Congress had appropriated $27 million for projects along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) during FY2022. The money is to be divided between the Tulsa and Little Rock districts, with $10 million going to the latter. The two districts share maintenance of the MKARNS system and have a plan called MKARNS 2030 for improving and upgrading the system. The Corps has asked for another $25 million for the system for FY 2023. 

The MKARNS is a 445-mile inland navigation channel that stretches from Tulsa’s Port of Catoosa to the Mississippi River. It recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its dedication in 1971 by President Richard Nixon. Preston called the MKARNS “a gem for the region.” It includes five locks and dams and two hydropower plants. Major cargoes include coal, steel, fertilizer, aggregates and soybeans. 

 “We are talking about over the next eight years not only sustaining the system, but improving it,” Preston said during his presentation. “One of the big things with that is going from a 9-foot channel to a 12-foot channel.” Each extra foot of channel depth allows a barge to carry another 150-200 tons of cargo. Right now, a single barge can load about 1,500 tons of cargo. The district has calculated that when dredging is complete, the new channel depth should save barge companies $43 million a year. 

The Corps is currently allocating money it received from the recently passed Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, which included $17 billion for port and waterways infrastructure. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who appeared at the conference by videotaped message, told participants he was “fighting to ensure Congress is prioritizing Oklahoma infrastructure projects.” Inhofe, along with the entire Oklahoma congressional delegation, voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which he called a “grab-bag of bad policy decisions” included in a “rushed process…that sidestepped regular order” and that weren’t properly debated.  He said the bill included too many items unrelated to infrastructure. But despite his opposition to the bill, Inhofe said he would make sure Oklahoma got its share of infrastructure spending from it, including work along the MKARNS, Phase I dredging in the 12-foot project and critical maintenance backlog on its locks and dams.

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Congress included language in the Water Resources Development Act of 2004 that authorized deepening the MKARNS but didn’t appropriate funds. A 2019 report estimated it would cost $199 million to complete the project. Between the $27 million appropriated for FY2022 and the $25 million requested for FY2023, Preston said, “We have a lot of work coming into the system.”