Two bills intended to address infrastructure and maintenance needs along the inland navigation system passed Tuesday with unanimous support in the House of Representatives.
House Bill 2143, introduced by Rep. Chris Sneed, R-Fort Gibson, would set up a continuing fund not subject to fiscal year limitations that would "capture any funds that may come in for the maintenance of the ports." Another bill Sneed introduced, House Bill 2142, would have the governors of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma create and prioritize a maintenance and development strategy for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.
"Currently, there is no money that it is going to bring in," Sneed said during floor debate Tuesday before passage of HB 2143. "We are setting it up just in case there is money that comes in."
Sneed said the revolving fund would capture federal and state funding designated for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System along with any public-private dollars contributed to the fund for maintenance of the inland navigation system. The bill was requested by port officials who have expressed concerns about the backlog of critical maintenance needs along the navigation channel.
Muskogee Port Director Scott Robinson said federal investment in the national infrastructure, including its inland waterways, has declined during the past several decades. He said that has produced a "critical backlog of maintenance" that "has grown and is growing at an alarming rate."
"This is an opportunity for our new legislative leaders to create a revolving fund within the state treasury to serve as the repository of appropriated funds, used as necessary, to restore and construct improvements to the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System," Robinson said about HB 2143, which now goes to the Oklahoma Senate for further consideration. "It is essential for the safe and efficient operation of the system."
A task force assembled by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2013 determined the temporary closure of the navigation channel due to a malfunction or system failure would have an economic impact of $2.9 million a day. Regional job losses due to the closure of the navigation channel, according to the task force's 2015 report, would total 11,836 with 8,743 of those occurring in Oklahoma.
Robinson said passage of this bill in the Senate, where Sens. Kim David, R-Porter, and Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, have signed on as co-authors, would give Gov. Kevin Stitt an opportunity "to take a leadership role in the creation of a multi-state initiative to address the risk of failure and develop a strategy to avert such a failure."
“I am excited one of my major campaign promises is becoming reality as we create real jobs for our district that will result in livable wages for my constituents with which they can support their families,” Sneed said. “This bill create opportunities for construction and building new industry at our local ports.”