River navigation remains stalled

Muskogee Phoenix

June 29– Jun. 29–Liability disputes have stalled repairs at Lock Dam 16, where four gates were damaged by two barges washed down the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System by what has been described as unprecedented flooding.

Port Director Scott Robinson said the ongoing disagreement prompted a request by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make alternative arrangements for the removal of those barges. He said the U.S. Navy was asked to oversee removal and salvage efforts, so infrastructure repairs along the inland navigation channel can proceed.

“As you might expect, there is a little bit of a debate going on about who is responsible for those barges,” Robinson said, noting the debate is between the company that had “care, custody and control” of the barges and the owner of barges. “The Corps is taking responsibility for it (removal), and ultimately one of those companies will have to pay for removing and salvaging those two barges and paying for repairing those four gates that were damaged.”

Navigation, which had slowed earlier this year, came to a halt in late May when the Arkansas River crested May 26 at 46.39 feet, inundating the Port of Muskogee and areas upstream and downstream. Robinson said it was unknown when navigation will resume, “but it could be several months.”

“The issues would be shoaling right at the locks and then shoaling in the Kerr Reservoir — they found serious issues there,” Robinson said, referencing areas where sediment has settled after flooding and caused shallow navigation hazards. “There was a test run from Rosedale, Mississippi, to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, … they made it without trouble to Pine Bluff, but above there will be some problems. There is no doubt about that.”

Subsequent rainfalls and minor flooding that have occurred since the near historic crests in May have prevented dredging crews from clearing the channel. Robinson said contractors are not required to work when flows exceed 150,000 cfs. Data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey show that was exceeded as recently as this past weekend when thunderstorms contributed to flows of about 190,000 cfs and moderate flooding at the Muskogee gauge.

Discussions between port and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials remain ongoing about disaster assistance. Robinson said the port is a qualified applicant, and eligible expenses related to the flood likely will be reimbursed at a rate of 87.5 percent.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.