Tulsa’s Arkansas River challenge

By: David Arnett –

The Arkansas is the sixth longest river in America and the second longest tributary to the Mississippi River. Over the course of time in Tulsa it has been polluted then protected both ignored and studied in exhaustive detail. Often slandered, the Arkansas River in Tulsa County now stands as the local challenge of our generation.

The Arkansas is a prairie river that, in major part, supports navigation providing substance for the most inland port in America – The Tulsa Port of Catoosa – after it joins as one of three rivers near Muskogee, south of Tulsa. To the northwest of the metropolitan area the Keystone Dam ends Arkansas River’s “wild prairie” phase as the dam controls water releases to prevent flooding and provide hydroelectric power.

A wild prairie river is a mix of sand and water that braids in ever changing “runs and riffles.” The Keystone Dam prevents downstream migration of sand thus what water flows is now scouring down to bedrock throughout Tulsa County. When rains to the north are frequent, the Arkansas fills from bank to bank, but most often area residents can walk and hop across the river on bedrock without getting their shoes damp. That is not a healthy state for a river.

Beyond any one public vote, the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan has been under development for over a decade. The effort has always included close cooperation and communication between Tulsa County, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and other stakeholders.

Cynthia Kitchens, Project Manager, US Corps of Engineers Tulsa Regional Office said, “The Arkansas River in Tulsa County is very important to us.”

Gene Lilly, Water Resource Planner for the Corps said, “There is progress. The Master Plan was developed following Vision 2025 and funded in part by that initiative and by the Corps of Engineers. In 2005 the Master Plan was completed and laid out a connectional plan for the Arkansas River [addressing] flood risk reduction and eco restoration.

“Congress has authorized the Corps to study the Arkansas River in Tulsa County by a specific SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Risk Informed, Timely) Planning Process, Lilly said adding, “Depending on future funding, we can determine Federal interest in cost sharing of projects.

Lilly said, “The Corps supports the Master Plan’s comprehensive collaborative approach to development. The Master Plan is not our plan, but the community’s plan. We provided some funding, but many ideas came from the public, stakeholders, and community leaders. We will be a part of certain aspects of the Master Plan and an example of that is the current effort on Crow Creek.”

That Crow Creek effort is publicly known as “The Gathering Place” currently underway as a private/public development effort led by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and other corporate and individual donors on the east side of the Arkansas River in midtown Tulsa. Lilly said, “The Gathering Place is an example of taking our concepts to the next level.”

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Inhofe Could Chair Environment Committee

By: Ed Brayton –

Sen. James Inhofe, a startlingly ignorant man, will once again become the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee if the Republicans retake control of the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.

Let that thought sink in without shuddering.

“U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Tuesday he will again head the Senate committee overseeing transportation and environmental regulation if Republicans win control of the upper chamber in November.
Speaking to about 50 plant managers and others associated with Tulsa Port of Catoosa tenants, Inhofe said a Republican victory would make him chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee…
Under the Senate Republicans’ somewhat complicated rules, Arizona’s John McCain would become Armed Services chairman in the event of a GOP majority, and Inhofe would resume his top position on EPW.”
Bear in mind that this is the kind of “thought” that rattles around in his head:

“Inhofe: Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
That man shouldn’t be running the night shift at a Taco Bell, much less a Senate committee.

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Aging Locks and Dams Create Concerns for Companies that Rely on Barges

By: Steve Banker –

Dana Weber, the CEO of Webco Industries, a tubing manufacturer, is speaking out about her concerns about the ongoing lack of sufficient spending on locks and dams on the U.S.’s inland waterways.

Webco, headquartered near Tulsa Oklahoma, was founded in 1969 based on the perceived demand for tubing products across Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. Based on the demand, and the belief that an Oklahoma plant close to their customer base could be cost competitive as long as barges could be used to bring in raw materials, Webco was founded and began shipping in 1970.

Most of Webco’s raw materials originate in the northeastern U.S., although they also receive raw materials from the southeastern U.S. and overseas. Webco has another plant in Pennsylvania, not located near a waterway, that consequently relies on truck – rail for various reasons is not practical – to get most of their raw materials. These goods come from suppliers located for the most part less than 200 miles away. Despite the much greater distances involved, it is cheaper for the Oklahoma plant to receive raw materials from the Northeast via the Port of Catoosa than it is for their Pennsylvania plant to receive materials from local suppliers. Indeed, Ms. Weber says that Webco saves over $4 million per year in freight based upon their usage of barges.

Over time, the advantage of barge transport has only increased. Truck rates have increased much faster than barge rates, and there have been capacity shortages around securing flatbeds. If anything, Ms. Weber believes, those trucking pressures will increase based on the new hours of service rules.
Barge moves do require longer lead times. For Webco the lead times increase from one week to a month with barge, which increases inventory carrying costs. But the freight savings far outweigh inventory carrying costs, especially with the very low interest rates now prevailing.

One downside to the use of barges is that low water levels in late summer and high water levels in the spring can prevent barges from using a waterway. However, Webco has a good advanced understanding of when those events are likely to occur and work with their suppliers to stock up in advance of river disturbances.
However, Ms. Weber’s greatest concern when it comes to barge is the deferred maintenance and aging locks and dams. Ms. Weber’s concerns are not unique. Cargill has been public about their concerns. And the American Association of Port Authorities put out a statement saying that the latest transportation budget proposed in the
President’s fiscal year 2015 budget “falls well short of the waterside maintenance and modernization needs of this country.

Bob Portiss, Port Director at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, and a Director at the National Waterways Conference, points out that towing service providers are one of the very few industries begging for increased taxes that would then be used to maintain inland waterways. The Inland Waterway Trust Fund is paid for with a 20 cent tax on every gallon
of diesel fuel that the towing services industry uses. But the Trust Fund has not collected enough to meet the backlog of work that needs to be done.

Bob made the point that “Water transportation is one of the least expensive modes of transportation. It allows US businesses to be competitive.” Finally, Ms. Weber points out that the last thing the U.S. transportation infrastructure needs is to shift more products from barges to our highways, which could negatively impact the entire economy due to truck capacity limitations. If anything, the U.S. would get more bang for the buck trying to
get more traffic moving by barge.

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Five years out: 50 percent chance of failure

By: Sarah Mccallion – Tulsa Business Journal

“We have to have about $100 million in repairs made on this navigation system at various locks and dams and features of the system along the way. If we don’t get that done, there’s a 50 percent chance of failure of any of those portions within the next five years,” Port Authority Marketing and Communications Manager Jeff Yowell told TB&LN of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.

“All of the infrastructure on our navigation system is approaching 60 years old. … They wear out over time. The bearings wear out, the motors wear out, the gates themselves wear out because water is corrosive.”The Tulsa Port of Catoosa was built in 1971 and serves the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which President Richard Nixon referred to as “Oklahoma’s Seacoast.” The port is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.“The problem is the Corps of Engineers’ budget is cut year after year, so they’re having to work with fewer and fewer funds, and fewer and fewer dollars,” Yowell said. “They do a great job with the money that they have, but they need more funds to maintain this vital resource for not only Tulsa, not only Oklahoma, but the entire U.S.”Port of Catoosa estimates show if water transportation did not exist in Oklahoma, rail and truck costs would increase by about 15 percent because a lack of competition. Additionally, the port is a large source of employment for the region.“Let’s talk about jobs,” Yowell said. “We’ve got 70 companies here with 4,000 in employment, and that’s just in the port. From here to the Arkansas state border you’re talking about 8,000 jobs. If you combine Oklahoma and Arkansas you’re talking about 13,000 to 14,000 jobs directly related to waterway transportation.”

The entire Oklahoma and Arkansas system runs approximately 445 miles from the Mississippi River to the head of navigation with 11.7 million tons of annual cargo valued at $3.7 billion, as of 2012 estimates. Of that cargo, 5.75 million tons, valued at $2.1 billion, is from the Oklahoma segment alone.

According to Yowell, barges in the port can each hold up to 1,500 tons of cargo, equivalent to 60 semi-trucks or 15 rail cars.

“With just one boat you’re already saving a lot because you’ve replaced so many trucks,” he said. “But consider this: One boat, with three diesel engines and a crew of five to eight, can just as easily push 12 of these barges at one time on this navigation system. Now you’re talking about one boat pushing 720 truckloads worth of cargo.”

Yowell continued that one business with locations in Sand Springs and Pennsylvania told him it is cheaper for them to transport their steel from Pennsylvania to Tulsa via waterway, than it is for them to transport the steel from the mills in Pennsylvania to the Pennsylvania headquarters.

As one of the nation’s largest inland ports, to accommodate incoming and outgoing goods the Tulsa Port of Catoosa spreads across a 2,500-acre complex complete with industrial sites for lease, a foreign trade zone, seven liquid cargo loading and unloading areas with a capacity of approximately 1 million barrels, a 5.5 million-bushel grain handling facility, an overhead traveling crane with a capacity of 200 tons, three locomotives, weigh scales, natural gas and is serviced by three Class I railways and numerous trucking firms. Of the 2,500 acres, there remains only approximately 150 acres left available for lease.

As an important part of Oklahoma and the region’s economy, Yowell said the port authority and other entities are working toward a solution for the issue of replacing and repairing parts. One way the problem is being addressed is through the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s OneVoice Legislative Agenda 2014 Federal Priorities, which calls for reauthorization of the Water Resource Development Act.

“The Tulsa Port of Catoosa adds significant value to our regional economy and to business recruitment efforts in northeast Oklahoma,” said Justin McLaughlin, senior vice president of Economic Development, Tulsa Regional Chamber. “Assets such as the port make the Tulsa area a thriving intermodal transportation hub and greatly enhance our competitiveness among peer regions.”

“Versions of [the WRDA] bill have been passed in both the House and the Senate but the bill has remained mired in joint committee negotiations since October 2013,” said Yowell. “This bill is critical to the nation and needs to move forward.”

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Job, cargo numbers near records at Port of Catoosa

By: Kyle Arnold – Tulsa World

The Tulsa Port of Catoosa may have recorded its best year in 2013 as both employment and shipping surpassed pre-recession levels.

As of Dec. 31, the 70 companies at the port’s industrial park employed 4,000 people. By the end of this quarter, officials expect to see the worker tally exceed all-time highs.
“The port was just one barge-load short of last year’s all-time record,” said David Page, chairman of the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority, at its annual meeting Wednesday. “It shows that waterway transportation is growing.”

Some 2.7 million tons of cargo were shipped in and out of the port during 2013, with major shipments of crude oil, agriculture products and steel that supplies local manufacturing companies.

Last year’s cargo numbers were just 2,000 pounds short of the record set in 2012, when shipping was buoyed by crude oil being transported from New Orleans to Catoosa and then trucked to Cushing. Companies started shipping oil along the waterway thanks to a widened spread in the price of oil in New Orleans and Cushing.

Now the port is planning to grow, with 45 acres of newly developed property available for companies and a major upgrade to the main dock that could double the loading capacity at the port.

The port developed the land three years ago but first filled other properties inside the complex.

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