Stakeholders prepare for MKARNS’ 50th anniversary

Stakeholders prepare for MKARNS' 50th anniversary
Lock & Dam 16 near Webbers Falls is one of five such structures the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates and maintains along the upper reaches of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. 

Having the ability to access seaports around the world by water from inland ports in Oklahoma is something many take for granted today, but the idea might have been ridiculed by skeptics before Marine Highway 40 was built.

Stakeholders who rely on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System to ship commodities around the globe will celebrate the inland waterways 50th anniversary. The Port of Muskogee kicked off the golden anniversary in January, and Tulsa Port of Catoosa will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its inauguration in June.

The MKARNS was dedicated on June 5, 1971, by former President Richard Nixon. The 445-mile inland navigation channel represents an ambitious plan to connect eastern Oklahoma with the Mississippi River, creating a viable route for shipping waterborne commerce through Arkansas.

Port of Muskogee Director Scott Robinson said this past week during a virtual launch of activities leading up anniversary events in June it would be difficult “to overestimate the impact of the port and the waterway.” He gave MKARNS credit for investments worth more than $2 billion made by local industry developed during the past 50 years along the waterfront.

“We are living a dream, so to speak …, a dream that was 25 years in the making before the dedication of this waterway,” Robinson said. “Early waterway pioneers in Oklahoma and Arkansas invested their time and money, their shoe leather, and in some cases their hearts and souls to make what we now — sometimes — take for granted but benefit from greatly.”

Grasping the reality of shipping goods along a navigable waterway from the landlocked state of Oklahoma to global destinations remains difficult even today for some. Robinson said those early waterway pioneers of the MKARNS “obviously had to face from time to time skepticism — and even ridicule — at the very thought of it.”

“Knowing how difficult it is today to authorize a project — or get the appropriations necessary to protect or improve the navigation system — I doubt seriously that a 445-mile waterway could be constructed in the United States today,” Robinson said. “And certainly not in Arkansas and Oklahoma … We owe these waterway pioneers a debt of gratitude, and now is the time to recognize them.”

Sens. John L. McClellan and Robert S. Kerr, and U.S. Rep. Ed Edmondson were cited by Robinson as being among the champions whose “names have been permanently enshrined as inductees to the Arkansas River Hall of Fame.” Information about those early pioneers and other champions of the inland waterway may be found at the Arkansas-Oklahoma Port Operators Association website, where there is a link to the Arkansas River Hall of Fame.

“Ultimately their vision became a reality,” Robinson said. “It transformed the landscape of Oklahoma — if not forever, for the foreseeable future — and provided a quality of life that had previously been unknown.”

Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz, who also serves as executive director at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation,  described the MKARNS as a “hidden gem.” The inland waterway, he said, “ties into other various modes of transportation options,” providing what shippers need to move commodities “efficiently by barge between Oklahoma and the Gulf of Mexico.”

“The MKARNS has grown into a reliable trading route to the world,” Gatz said. “This anniversary is the perfect time to share the stories that make this waterway such an economic success.”

There are three public ports along the MKARNS in Oklahoma — Tulsa Port of Catoosa, Port of Muskogee and Port of Keota — and other private ports on the system, according to ODOT reports. Those ports handle more than six million tons of cargo annually and support more than 11,000 jobs, directly contributing $1.6 billion to the state’s economy.

Gatz also announced a new series ODOT launched this week that will feature a series of social media posts called “MKARNS Mondays.” The feature will be presented on ODOT’s Twitter and Facebook Channels, @OKDOT, providing facts and photographs of the inland navigation system in advance of the June anniversary.

Article by: By D.E. Smoot / Feb 23, 2021

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