Rainfall Causing Traffic Jam At Port

Sunday, March 30th 2008, 10:10 pm
By: News On 6

Recent rainfall has caused a traffic jam, of sorts, on the Arkansas River.  The Coast Guard is slowing down commercial shipping along a major inland waterway.  The News On 6's Dan Bewley reports the Port of Catoosa is one of the largest inland river ports in the country.  But floodwaters have put the clamps on a very unique transportation system.

Sitting on 2,000 acres in Rogers County, the Port of Catoosa ships more than two million tons of cargo every year.

"We load and unload rail cars, trucks, and barges," said Port Director Bob Portiss.

Business is booming, the Port is coming off its best January and February since opening in 1971.

"The river is our highway," said Portiss.

A highway that travels 445 miles from Catoosa, through Arkansas, and down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. But just north of the Crescent City, the Coast Guard has put a halt to barges and slowed-down the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System.

Buckets and buckets of rain is to blame. The Arkansas River is flooding and the speed of the river has reached what the Coast Guard calls "treacherous" conditions.      

"Right now it's just heavy, heavy flows which is slowing traffic right there. In fact, literally, traffic is stopped at the entrance channel," said Portiss.

Portiss says some traffic is able to leave the Port of Catoosa but as it gets closer to New Orleans it's forced to stop. He says this has happened before, adding it's just the nature of the transport business.

"We have ice on the roads that slow vehicle traffic. Sometimes we can't fly our airplanes because of the weather. The same thing is true with waterways, we're going to have a lot of rains sometimes," said Portiss.

But time is money, Portiss says, and having boats sit around isn't the best for business. The good news, Portiss doesn't expect this hang-up to last very long.

"I have seen times, in my career, where we've been down three weeks. That's not going to happen this time. I do not believe it for a minute," said Portiss.

To give you an example of how fast the water is flowing, Portiss says it's moving at close to 139,000 cubic feet a second between Muskogee and Fort Smith.  He says it gets dangerous at 150,000 cubic feet a second.

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