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Arkansas River barge traffic could be stopped for months

Posted at 9:38 PM, Sep 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-06 14:54:47-04

MUSKOGEE, OK (KJRH) — It took months to remove the sunken barges at the Webbers Falls dam, but the problems on the river are just beginning. Muskogee County officials learned Thursday the effects from the flood are going to be felt for months longer.

After the second mangled barge was removed from the Webbers Falls dam, thanks to welding additional metal onto the barge to lift it out, engineers began inspecting what would need to be repaired. Thankfully, it isn't much, and the repairs could be done in two to three weeks.

After repairs, it should take another week for the river to fill back in as water is released upstream. After that, dredging can begin, a welcome sign for companies that rely on barge traffic.

However, Muskogee County District One Commissioner Ken Doke learned Thursday those barges won't be able to move for months.

"The ripple effect from this is just extraordinary," Doke said. "Our companies here are suffering and we've had several hundred employees laid off. A lot of that is related to this damage in the waterway."

The problem - the entire waterway has areas where barges won't be able to pass because of the sediment and debris built up during the spring floods. Initial reports say those spots can be up to two miles long.

When barges aren't moving down the river, it's a $2 million per day impact on the local economy.

"Our original hope was to see the river back open to barge traffic in September," Doke said. "We're probably looking at November now."

Doke says flood damage to the ports and waterway now totals $100 million. Between repairs and dredging, Muskogee County simply doesn't have the money to get it all done.

"Every day, we're still bleeding here," Doke said. "We have to figure out something because this is not sustainable. We have to get this river back open."

The plan now is to apply for state and federal aid for dredging and repairs.

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