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Tulsa Ports looking to bring more business to region

port of catoosa boats barges
Posted at 4:58 PM, May 29, 2024

CATOOSA, Okla. — Water travel in this country has a long and storied history, especially when it comes to commerce. The Port of Catoosa is no different.

Port officials hope its future follows the same path.

Past and Present

People can travel from Tulsa to anywhere in the world by boat.

Something overlooked is that a lot of international trade comes to and from Tulsa. That’s because the area has a port connected to the ocean by way of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers.

sheila shooks port of catoosa arkansas river
Sheila Shook shows a map illustrating the lock system of the Arkansas River and its tributaries.

It’s all part of a vast network of navigable waterways in the middle of the United States, connecting landlocked regions to international shipping lanes.

It’s truly a feat of engineering.

Along the Arkansas River system, there are 18 locks carrying traffic through varying altitudes up and downstream.

The Port of Catoosa was dedicated on June 5, 1971, by then-President Richard Nixon.

president richard nixon port of catoosa
President Richard Nixon at the Port of Catoosa on June 5, 1971.

“The project was actually authorized all the way back in 1946," Sheila Shook, the director of workforce & education for Tulsa Ports, told 2 News. "So, it took many years of people like Sen. [Robert S.] Kerr (Okla.) and Sen. [John L.] McClellan out of Arkansas advocating for this waterway to be built.”

When asked what Tulsa and Oklahoma would be like without the port, she replied, “Moving products on a waterway... Most people don’t think about it because it happens all day, every day."

"Nobody in Oklahoma has to stop for a barge to go," she continued, "so they just go by every day, and you don’t think about those products being moved.”

Each barge holds 1,500 tons of cargo, according to Shook. 12 of them carry the same tonnage as 720 semi-trucks.

She noted that being able to ship massive amounts of goods and raw materials—like steel, wheat, or soybeans—to Tulsa and then back to global markets keeps manufacturing jobs in northeast Oklahoma.

“It’s one-fifth the cost to send that by barge versus truck," Shook emphasized. "So, that definitely helps the cost for farmers, which gets pushed onto us as consumers.”

The Future

Shook told us more companies keep moving to the Port of Catoosa. However, she said the future is the Port of Inola.

“In Inola, we have 2000 acres of empty land to fill, just like we did here in Catoosa early on," she explained. "So, we have been talking to all different types of companies. We’re talking about advanced manufacturing, looking at what is next in energy.”

Port officials and political figures will gather on June 5 to cut the ribbon on a new rail project for the Port of Inola, the Verdigris Southern Railroad, falling on the same day Nixon dedicated the Port of Catoosa.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk replied to Gov. Kevin Stitt's July 2020 tweet urging Oklahomans to make one final push in convincing Tesla to pick Tulsa for a new assembly plant. The CEO expressed interest, even paying a visit.

Shook told us his tweet spurred a lot of companies' interest in Tulsa.
“He ultimately chose Austin," she said, "but just him coming here and looking in our area has made a big impact as to all the different companies that are looking at us globally.”

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