Near-record flooding in late May halted barge traffic along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System through this past week, and it could be September before "the channel is open to Oklahoma ports."
Port Director Scott Robinson said the amount of water being discharged into the navigation channel from upstream reservoirs until this week prevented survey crews from assessing the channel. High river flows, he said, have prohibited dredging areas where shoaling has obstructed the navigation channel.
"Flows will need to be in the 70,000 to 89,000 cfs range before the Corps ... can get out and actually survey the entire river," Robinson said Tuesday, a day before flows dropped that low in more than two months. "The total amount of dredging they know of is a million cubic yards of shoaling, which is an awful big project."
Robinson said high flows also have prevented the relocation of equipment needed to salvage two barges that sank after crashing into Lock & Dam 16. He said there have been some tows "moving under restricted conditions" downstream from Little Rock, Arkansas, but it could be two months or more before cargo begins shipping by barge from ports in Oklahoma.
"The tonnage report (for June) is pretty dismal — July is not going to be any better ..., and August may not be any better on barge tonnage," Robinson said, noting barge tonnage was down 33.43 percent for the year as a result of flooding. "Rail tonnage has been not very good either, but I think you will see in July some improvement, and ... chances for continued improvement on the rail side."
June rail tonnage at the port totaled 15,318 tons, a 30.86 percent — or 6,838 tons — decrease from the 22,156 tons shipped by rail during the same period a year ago. Year-to-date rail cargo totaled 126,208 tons, down 9.59 percent from the 139,590 tons reported during the first six months of 2018.
Imported commodities that arrived in June by rail consisted of steel coils, steel, rebar, soy hull pellets, and beams and channels, all of which arrived on 162 cars. Petroleum coke was the only commodity exported in June by rail, and just three cars left the port carrying that product.
Truck cargo tracked in June totaled 27,725 tons, which was down 57.83 percent — or 38,022 tons — from the 65,747 tons reported for the same month in 2018. Despite areas of the port remaining underwater during the first part of June, year-to-date truck tonnage totaling 459,849 tons represents year-to-date growth of 20.08 percent, up from the 382,939 tons reported during the first half of 2018.
Steel made up most of the commodities imported by truck in June with tile material, petroleum coke, spent refractory material and plastic pellets rounding out the loads pulled by 174 trucks. Exported commodities consisted primarily of steel, pipe, feldspar, clay, nepheline syenite and 10 other goods, all of which was transported by 958 trucks.