Challenges Face Port of Catoosa Even After Near-Record Year

Mar 7, 2014

The Port of Catoosa was one barge away from following a record-setting 2012 with a record-breaking 2013, but officials say they face several challenges this year.
Credit KWGS News File Photo

After a record-setting 2012 and a near-record 2013, 2014 is also off to a good start at the Port of Catoosa.

A $6.4 million federal grant will cover about half the cost of rehabilitating the port's main dock. City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority Chairman David Page said in his state of the port address the project will nearly double capacity.

"The work we're going to do on renovating our dock will greatly increase our — just the capacity and loads we can manage at the port, but it will also give us a bigger variety of freight that we can handle," Page said.

Port Operations Manager David Yarbrough gave a quick overview of the project.

"The main dock rehab project will basically rehabilitate and replace all the concrete on our main deck, remove an existing transit shed building, doubling the capacity of our main dock frontage," Yarbrough said. "We'll add a new crane, so we'll have two full-time overhead gantry cranes when that's done."

Page may have led off with good news, but not everything he had to say about the port was positive.

"Your port faces some crucial challenges that must be addressed. These challenges not only threaten our future growth, but also threaten our very existence," Page said.

The least concerning challenge is a 24-month project to widen Highway 266. It's almost more of an inconvenience compared to the other challenges.

Page said what worries port officials most is the lack of control they have over these problems.

"The port facility here, of which we have control over, is the heart of the operation," Page said. "Right now, the arteries are in bad shape, and that's largely a federal issue."

Port officials are asking for federal funds to complete congressionally authorized work to deepen the channel from nine feet to 12 feet from Catoosa to the Mississippi River. 

Port Director Bob Portiss said that project is important to continued growth.

"I believe that the 12-foot channel is critically important to our future because it would give us a 30-percent increase in productivity as far as barge transportation is concerned," Portiss said.

No word on where that funding request is currently at, which ties into the next problem. Port officials have been pushing to get federal authorization for joint emergency response with the Army Corps of Engineers. Portiss said it's necessary because the government doesn't have the money.

"And we know they don't have any money, so what we need to do, and what we want them to let us do, is to join forces with the Corps on a partnership basis, roll up our sleeves and figure out how — together — we can fix a problem," Portiss said. "If we have a lock that fails, how do we get in there and fix it together?

"That really concerns me because if a project fails today, we don't have the authority to help out."

And there's a good chance something could fail. Port officials say their biggest challenge is a backlog of work. The most critical items on the list have a 50 percent chance of failing within five years, and a failure could cost Oklahoma $2 million a day.

Yarbrough said what needs to be done is mostly neglected regular maintenance.

"Just like you need to change the tires or the oil on your car, a lot of what we need to do is just general upkeep and maintenance: Replacing lines and hydraulic lines and fittings, the pintle balls, which is the big bearing at the bottom of the gate," Yarbrough said. "But these things are big projects. They shut it down for a couple of weeks, and they cost a lot of money."

The current estimate to catch up on the backlog is $100 million. Port officials are hoping the latest version of the Water Resources Development Act will pass, which would allow them to form that partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers.