Bridge collapse impacting Port of Catoosa businesses

Wednesday, May 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

While the first priority of this accident has been the recovery efforts, there is also another effect of the crash, a serious slow down of port business.

News on Six reporter Lori Fullbright talked to businesses that ship grain, steel and fertilizer through the port of Catoosa about what effect the closed waterway is having on their bottom line.

The Terra plant produces liquid nitrogen fertilizer, some two and a half million tons of it every year. They ship 25% of that to the Midwest by barge down the Arkansas River. Richard Sanders, Terra plant manager: "Typical barge tow we put about 12,000 tons of product on which is equivalent to 450 trucks, so logistically, you can't get than many trucks in and out of the plant."

They only use trucks to ship to locations in Oklahoma and Kansas, the rest, goes by rail, but, only so many rail cars are available and right now, everyone's scrambling for more. The Corps of Engineers estimates the river channel will re-open for business in two weeks.

The businesses we talked to say they can handle it in the short-term, but, if it goes much longer than that, they'll feel the pinch. Terra has already cut production by 15%. And, this comes at an especially bad time. "This is the spring planting season. They're planting corn right now and the fertilizer needs to go on the ground in the next three weeks. So, we need to get it to them by the end of June, for sure."

But, for the time being, barges sit parked at the Port of Catoosa, not being allowed to carry loads downriver. Making the shipments other ways will not only cause a delay but also, increase the company's costs, which cuts into their bottom line. But, they say that is a small price to pay compared to what others are going through.

Terra is affected on both ends, the plant has two sets of barges below the accident scene, and so they can't get empty barges home or send full ones out. The Coast Guard will make the decision when to re-open the river channel.