Despite being land-locked in Mid-America, water ports play an integral role in Oklahoma’s economy.
While it may come as a surprise to some, Oklahoma’s water ports are rapidly gaining notice in national — as well as international — business circles.
Despite being hundreds of miles from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Oklahoma businesses have become players in international commerce thanks to the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (“MKARNS”), a 445-mile navigable waterway originating at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and flowing southeast to the Mississippi River.
Besides the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, the Port of Muskogee and Oakley’s Port 33 are the key Oklahoma components in the network of inland waterway transportation. The MKARNS waterway links these Oklahoma ports to a 10-state area and access to other domestic ports located on America’s inland waterways and, perhaps more importantly, to foreign ports via the Port of New Orleans and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
Bob Portiss, port director of the Port of Catoosa, easily recalls the defining moment from Oklahoma’s businesses’ perspective.
“When the waterway opened in December 1970, it was the advent of water transportation in Oklahoma, and it lowered transportation costs by 15 percent, which is very significant,” says Portiss. Each of the three Oklahoma ports offer unique advantages when it comes to businesses expanding their opportunities for international trade.
Tulsa Port of Catoosa
One of the nation’s largest and most inland river ports in the United States, the Tulsa Port of Catoosa has approximately 2,500 acres of industrial park space with multi-modal shipping access — Class I railroads, air freight systems and convenient Interstate highway access.
Facilities at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa are top-notch — and improving. On site are five public terminals, including a 720-foot general dry cargo dock (that can handle three barges simultaneously), a roll on/roll off low-water wharf, a dry bulk terminal, and a 5.5-million-bushel grain handling facility. Three rail switching locomotives, two tow boats for barge switching and a 200-ton overhead traveling crane help move all products coming through the port. The port is undergoing a main dock upgrade, replacing all the concrete with additional plans to overhaul the 200-ton crane and then add a 300-ton overhead crane.
“We want to be a one-stop industrial logistic center for businesses in the central United States,” Portiss explains.
The port constantly receives ringing endorsements from businesses that utilize it. Webco Industries Inc., headquartered in Sand Springs, is a specialty manufacturer of high-quality carbon and stainless-steel tubing products that are designed to industry and customer specifications. Dana Weber, president and CEO of Webco, says that the Port of Catoosa plays a critical role in her company’s continued ability to prosper.
“We receive raw materials for our manufacturing processes via the port, which provides a very competitive cost structure. The port is very well-run and is very cost-effective from our perspective.”
Heater Specialists, LLC, a manufacturer of refinery equipment with plants in Tulsa and Mazie, has an assembly operation at the Port of Catoosa.
Alan Jackson, president, explains that the port enables his company to not only greatly expand its market footprint but also helps to reduce customers’ cost of assembly.
“The port allows us to compete in markets on the Gulf Coast, the East Coast and even in South America where we would normally not be able to participate. Barge transportation is the key,” he says. “International shipments can be moved via ocean barge to the final destination or barged to New Orleans and then transloaded to ocean freighters for delivery to any port in the world.”
Port of Muskogee
The Port Of Muskogee also provides industrial park facilities and ready access to multiple modes of transportation.
With nearly 300 acres of industrial park land and convenient access to the Muskogee Turnpike, Highway 69 and Interstates 40 and 44, the Muskogee Port serves several major trucking companies including J.B. Hunt, Yellow Freight and Dalworth Trucking.
In addition, a rail marshalling yard and overhead and mobile cranes are available for transloading shipments for truck, train or barge.
Metals USA, a specialty metals processor and distributor in Muskogee, has a steel service center located at the port. General Manager Michele Arnold says the port has helped its bottom line.
“We receive most of our steel by rail, but we have the best of all worlds here — with easy access to highways, rail and barge. It’s been a life-saver in helping our freight costs.”
Scott Robinson, port director, sums up the advantages offered by the Oklahoma ports.
“The ports along the Oklahoma segment of the MKARNS afford industry the option of utilizing the most cost-effective combination of barge, rail and truck transportation for access to raw materials and distribution of finished products — truly a competitive advantage in today’s global marketplace,” Robinson says.
Oakley’s Port 33
The largest privately owned and operated port facility in Oklahoma, Oakley’s Port 33 is located near Inola on the Verdigris River, and is responsible for about one-third of the total tonnage shipped in Oklahoma. Bulk commodities such as sand, gravel, salt, rock, grain and agricultural products such as fertilizer account for much of the port’s shipments.
In a good harvest year, Oakley’s Port 33, along with the Port of Catoosa, combine to ship some 30 million bushels of grain to New Orleans.