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Officials Celebrate Port Of Catoosa's 50th Anniversary

Matt Trotter

Tulsa Ports is marking 50 years since the Port of Catoosa opened.

President Richard Nixon was on hand June 5, 1971, to dedicate it and the 445 mile long McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System that connects northeast Oklahoma to the Mississippi River.

"The new maritime states of Oklahoma and Arkansas can look forward to a whole new era of growth and development," Nixon said.

Local, state and federal officials gathered at the port Friday in a celebration of its golden anniversary. More than 87 million tons of cargo have come through the port in the past 50 years. Some of that was for a line of shopping cart baby hammocks made by Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell's wife, Lisa. Pinnell said that invention showed him the navigation system's importance in getting goods distributed throughout the U.S.

"Five, six years ago, I would rent a truck — this was before I was lieutenant governor, but I would probably still do it today — I would rent a truck, and I'd have to drive to this port," Pinnell said.

Over the years, the port has grown to include a surrounding industrial park. A similar development is underway in Inola.

While officials often tout the navigation system's economic impact from commercial activity, it also offers flood control, hydroelectric facilities and other benefits. Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz said a few years ago, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation decided to build emergency storage at the port for 60,000 tons of salt.

"I can assure you, we pulled salt out of that emergency store during that last storm, and Oklahomans were safer because of it, because we had access to that at a time when that commodity would have been very difficult to find otherwise," Gatz said.

Officials are now looking to the port's next 50 years. Former Tulsa Mayor and City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority Chair Dewey Bartlett said there ought to be a concerted effort to teach area high schoolers trades that can get them good jobs at the Catoosa or Inola ports.

"We want to be the conduit for the workforce development of our younger citizens of this country. That is a very important commitment," Bartlett said.

Federal funding to deepen the navigation system channel and allow heavier barges is at the top of port officials' wish list. A nonbinding Senate resolution authored by Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe commits to finishing work to deepen the navigation system from 9 feet to 12. Congress first authorized that in 2003, but funding has not been appropriated.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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