Shipping activities dragged down by channel, economic conditions

Shipping activity at the Port of Muskogee continued to be dragged down by problems that have yet to be addressed since May 2019 flooding and a pandemic-distressed economy.

Other than 2019, when the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas Navigation System was closed, barge tonnage recorded in August sank to lows that haven’t been seen for that month in several years. Rail tonnage recorded in August was down when compared to the same period a year ago, and year-to-date totals also declined. 

Port Director Scott Robinson said the “outlook is not good” as the dredge crews continue to clear navigation channels that silted in as a result of near historic flooding that began in May 2019. He said the U.S. Coast Guard “is way behind” in its efforts to retrieve buoys “that are not where they are supposed to be” and “re-marking the channel.”

“It’s challenging, and it’s overwhelming,” Robinson said. “Not just for us — those who receive the benefits and depend on what those agencies do — but for the agencies — their mission is overwhelming.”

Robinson said depressed oil and gas prices, which has resulted with a reduction in drilling activity and employment in the state’s oil fields, also impacts shipping at the port. 

Imported and exported goods shipped by barge in August totaled 34,196 tons — there was no barge tonnage recorded for the corresponding month in 2019. Barge tonnage for the first eight months of the year totaled 311,350 tons, exceeding the year-to-date total of 205,288 tons recorded during the first five months of 2019 by 34.07%, or 106,062 tons. 

The navigation channel was closed in May due to flooding. It remained closed through September as salvage crews worked to remove the wreckage of two runaway barges that crashed into the gates at Webbers Falls Dam. 

August barge cargo consisted of imported commodities that included clay, steel coils, cane molasses and rebar, which arrived on 20 barges. Exports included scrap steel, which left the port on 59 barges.

August rail tonnage totaled 5,981 tons, a 353.65% — or 21,153 tons — decrease from the 27,134 tons shipped by rail during the same period a year ago. Year-to-date rail cargo totaled 141,319 tons, down 24.93% from the 176,553 tons reported during the first eight months of 2019.

Imported commodities that arrived in August by rail consisted primarily of asphalt, rebar, steel, soy hull pellets and steel coils, which arrived along with 10 other commodities on 63 cars. Rail exports, which left the port on one cars, included petroleum coke.

August truck cargo tracked at the Port of Muskogee totaled 56,372 tons, up 36.17%, or 20,392 tons, from the 35,980 tons recorded the same month a year ago. The year-to-date total of 526,617 tons was down 3.05%, or 16,071 tons, from the 542,688 tons recorded during the first eight months of 2019. 

Imported commodities that arrived by truck consisted primarily of asphalt, steel and scrap steel, which arrived along with seven other commodities on 454 trucks. Exported goods, which left the port on 1,864 trucks, consisted primarily of steel coils, asphalt, clay, nepheline syenite, steel and 12 other commodities. 

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