Largest towboat in America visits Green Country, crew looks at Arkansas River infrastructure

MUSKOGEE, Okla. - At 241 feet long, 58 feet wide and 52 feet high, it is the largest towboat ever in the United States.

It spent the weekend in Green Country, docked at the Port of Muskogee.

The Motor Vessel Mississippi is currently on the Arkansas River, with the Mississippi River Commission onboard.

Usually the 6,300 horsepower boat, captained by Lee Hendrix of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, is the muscle behind large construction projects on the Mississippi River.

Lately though, it has been serving as the host of important meetings on the Arkansas River.

"The Mississippi River Commission, they have important work," Hendrix said. "They have hearings along the way, where they stop and stakeholders from the river come on board the vessel. Kind of as a town hall meeting if you would."

As a major tributary to the Mississippi, the river commission is inspecting locks, dams and ports along the Arkansas.

Once an impressive waterway for transporting goods, port directors along the river said it is now outdated and falling behind the times.

"When you have a system that is 50 years old, and that is basically what we are, it had a 50 year life to begin with, so we are kind of worn out," Port of Catoosa director Bob Portis said.

The Motor Vessel Mississippi has been making stops at several ports as it travels up the Arkansas River. At each stop, engineers and business owners who rely on the river, share with the commission the status of the river infrastructure in their area.

Between Muskogee and Catoosa alone, Portis said more than 8,000 jobs are tied to the river. Along the entire Arkansas, he said more than $100 million in repairs are needed.

"We have to make sure this waterway stays in place, these jobs are protected and we can move commerce into the international marketplace competitively," Portis said.

The commission will take its findings to Washington, D.C., as it requests funding to update the locks, dams and ports on the Arkansas.

This week the Motor Vessel Mississippi and its crew will begin a journey back downstream, eventually returning to the Mississippi River and the boat's home in Memphis. 

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