The Tulsa Port of Catoosa marked another banner year in 2013 — its second best ever.
At the annual State of the Port address Wednesday, David Page, chairman of the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority, said total inbound and outbound shipping was 2,700,990 tons — just one barge-load short of the previous year’s all-time record total of 2,702,464 tons.
“In 2012, which was a huge growth year for us, the record tonnage was achieved primarily because of a new cargo category which was crude oil,” Page said, “and while less of that commodity shipped through the Port in 2013, it was still a remarkably strong year for the Port’s historic mainstays, which are agricultural products, steel and project cargo. It shows that waterway transportation is growing. It is being utilized more and for a wider range of cargos.”
The 2.7 million tons of cargo shipped through the Port in 2013 represents approximately $1.35 billion in commerce, according to Page.
While shipping totals did not break a record, employment did. Over 4,000 people now work within the more than 70 industrial facilities located at the Port.
Indeed, 2013 was a strong year for both new businesses at the Port as well as the expansion of existing industries.
“Because of these new and growing businesses at the Port and our shortage of fully-developed industrial sites, we’ve been in the process of clearing an additional 45-acre tract for new industrial locations,” Page said. “Several prospective companies have expressed an interest in setting up or expanding operations on this recently-developed tract of land.”
The Port was recently awarded a $6.4 million matching grant through the 2012 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.
The grant funds will cover approximately half of the costs of a rehabilitation project for the Port’s main dock.
When completed, the project will double the Port’s main dock capacity, allowing simultaneous handling of multiple barges, as well as improving their capabilities to handle non-conventional cargo types.
“These capacity improvements have the potential to redirect truck transportation traffic, including inter-modal shipments, from a number of Gulf ports to inland water-born traffic routes through the Port of New Orleans and subsequently to the Port of Catoosa, further enhancing the Port’s existing status as an inland international logistics center,” Page said.
In spite of the positive news, the Port is facing some challenges.
“These challenges not only threaten our future growth, but also threaten our very existence,” Page said. “It’s an area where we don’t have complete control of our future.”
He noted the Port must find answers to four pressing issues:
•Deferred maintenance and deterioration of infrastructure along the 445-mile navigation system and ensuring that adequate Congressional appropriations are made for optimum operation of the waterway system.
•Congressional authorization for a joint emergency response program between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and non-federal interests, of which the Port would be one, whereby they can address failures in the system immediately and without a federal layer of bureaucracy.
•Deepening of the navigational channel from nine to 12 feet.
•Widening of Highway 266 from the Port entrance to Highway 169.
“We should all remain cognizant of the fact that the waterway has attracted over $5 billion of private investment along the navigation system in Oklahoma, and employs 8,000 people,” Page said. “At the Port of Catoosa, $100 million in public investment has been leveraged to attract over $1 billion in private investment. All of this investment and the benefits, livelihood and welfare it provides is at risk should the waterway system be allowed to fail. It is imperative that our federal and state governments work on protecting this resource.”
He said the Port’s success over the last two years is proof that the navigation system must be prepared for more growth and higher tonnage volumes in the future.
“It is imperative that we continue to solicit support from Congress and to demand that they take care of our nation’s infrastructure, including inland waterways,” Page said. “Everyone must be made aware of and recognize the regional benefits derived from the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and the over 10,000 direct jobs it provides.”