Higher security at Tulsa's Port of Catoosa

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

One source of security concern for emergency officials in the Tulsa area is the Port of Catoosa, where a number of hazardous chemicals are moved and stored.

News on Six reporter Tami Marler has been looking into what this "heightened state of alert" means at the Port. You wouldn't think of Tulsa as being under the jurisdiction of the US Coast Guard, but the McClellan-Kerr waterway runs from Catoosa to the Mississippi River, where barges travel to and from all parts of the world.

It's in the heart of America, hundreds of miles from any ocean, but Tulsa's Port of Catoosa is an international shipping port. More than 12-hundred barges a year travel along the 445-mile McClellan-Kerr navigation system, from the port, to the Mississippi River. Some carry toxic and explosive chemicals. Officials say a high-jacked towboat or tanker could blow up a chemical plant, power plant, or water supply along the waterway. "Today we have this whole issue of security, homeland security, the terrorist situation, so our outlook is a little bit different.” Bob Portiss with the Port of Catoosa says the rules have changed for hazardous chemicals at the Port. "The Coast Guard, since 9-11, require that all of the towing companies that enter our zone, which is the Arkansas River zone, and carrying hazardous materials, report to them that they are carrying hazardous materials, what they are and where they're going."

Portiss says the Port requires towing companies to report their loads two hours before they arrive and the Coast Guard monitors the barge's activity until the hazardous materials are delivered. "And they are constantly communicating over our marine radios in our offices about what's going on as far as the river is concerned; anything that's suspicious they're going to call us about or they're gonna show up. The nature of the chemicals that are there and it is a focal point for us."

Roger Jolliff says the Tulsa Area and Rogers County Emergency Management teams tested their ability to handle a chemical release on a small scale back in July of last year. More than a hundred people were hospitalized after arsine gas leaked from a container. "And uh so that was a live test of a system that we've been working on for quite some time and we learned a lot there and it did prepare us for a future event. It was a minor chemical release, compared to what it could have been and we think of it as an emergency that did not turn into a disaster."