Shipping activity at the Port of Muskogee in July was relegated to the railroad and highways while the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System remained closed following near-record floods.
The inability to control the flow of water at Webbers Falls Lock & Dam 16 due to wreckage and ongoing salvage operations and dredging activities rendered the channel unnavigable throughout July. The U.S. Corps of Engineers began draining the Webbers Falls pool in mid-August to accommodate efforts to extract two barges that crashed into the dam and sank during the flood.
While barge traffic along the inland navigation channel in Oklahoma was nonexistent in July — the Port of Muskogee reported an 80.48 percent year-to-date plunge in tonnage — rail and truck traffic showed signs of a recovery. July tonnage for both modes of transportation trended higher than June, and July rail tonnage reported this year outpaced activity reported a year ago.
Despite those bright spots, Port Director Scott Robinson said there "never has been a more challenging time" for Oklahoma ports than it is right now. He described the post-flood recovery period as "a tough time" that has resulted with the loss of one company that pulled up stakes and the Port of Catoosa and moved to Houston.
"There has been a loss of business by four or five companies that depend on the waterways and whose businesses are located along the waterway," Robinson said. "The transportation costs of trucking materials from the Port of Little Rock or other locations where barges are located or where freight was already purchased and being trucked to Oklahoma … is a cost that, if it continues, would lead to things we don't want to talk about."
Robinson told city councilors this week he will meet this week with Gov. Kevin Stitt. He will travel the following week to Washington, where he will meet with federal officials who have jurisdiction over the navigation channel.
July rail tonnage at the Port of Muskogee totaled 23,210 tons, a 34.74 percent — or 8,064-ton — increase from the 15,146 tons shipped by rail during the same period a year ago. Year-to-date rail cargo totaled 149,418 tons, down 3.56 percent from the 154,736 tons reported during the first seven months of 2018.
Imported commodities that arrived in July by rail consisted primarily of steel coils, rebar and steel, which arrived along with seven other commodities on 247 cars. Rail exports consisted entirely of petroleum coke, which left the port on three cars.
Truck cargo tracked in July totaled 46,859 tons, which was down 28.85 percent — or 13,518 tons — from the 60,377 tons reported for the same month in 2018. The year-to-date total of 506,708 tons represents a 12.51 percent increase from the 443,317 tons reported during the first seven months of 2018.
Steel and pipe made up about the bulk of the commodities imported in July, which arrived with five other commodities on 210 trucks. Exported commodities reported in July consisted primarily of pipe and steel, which left the port on 2,324 trucks along with 17 other commodities.