The Mississippi River Commission visited the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Aug. 10 through 14 to perform a low-water inspection and meet with stakeholders onboard the Motor Vessel Mississippi, the largest towboat in the country and the official vessel of the MRC. The vessel is 241 feet long, 52 feet high and is an operational towboat 90 percent of the time.
The MV Mississippi was brought up the Arkansas River in early August and was positioned at the Port of Muskogee. Meanwhile, the commissioners flew into Tulsa and toured the Tulsa Port of Catoosa before traveling overland to link up with the MV Mississippi and begin the low water inspection as the vessel traveled downstream into and all the way across Arkansas.
The commission’s purpose for the trip was to conduct its process of listening, inspecting, partnering and engineering by meeting face-to-face with stakeholders, federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local Army Corps of Engineers offices along the waterway.
The MRC, established in 1879, is composed of seven members, each nominated by the president of the United States and confirmed by the senate. Current members include three general officers from the Corps, one member from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and three members from private sector, two of whom are civil engineers.
Although the commission has supervised the levee and revetment operations on the lower 92 miles of the Arkansas River for nearly 100 years, it has only completed a system-wide inspection of the Arkansas River system twice, the first in 2010.
The MKARNS is 445-miles long and includes portions of the White, Arkansas, and Verdigris Rivers. It has 18 locks and dams – 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma, all of which are operated and maintained by the Corps’ Tulsa and Little Rock Districts.
Stakeholders informed the commission that more than 12 million tons of cargo valued at more than $4 billion are transported annually on the MKARNS.
Several of the MRC members told stakeholders they had no idea that the navigation system was so important to the success of the region and they were pleasantly surprised at how important tourism along river is to the state of Arkansas.
Commission member Sam Angel, an Arkansas resident, was instrumental in establishing the low water inspection of the MKARNS.
“The trip was incredible, and we learned a tremendous amount about the issues and concerns of the people who live along and depend on the Arkansas,” he said.
During its time within Little Rock District boundaries, the commissioned was briefed on hydropower, flood risk management, levees, navigation, recreation, economic development and the importance of environmental stewardship and restoration.
Gene Higginbotham, Arkansas Waterways Commission executive director, talked about the importance of navigation on the river and how the Three Rivers Study would benefit shippers and the region’s economy.
“There is a seven to 10 percent chance each year of a full breach between the Arkansas and White river,” Higginbotham said. “A full breach would stop navigation on the MKARNS for more than 100 days, at an impact of nearly $300 million and the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands and pristine hardwoods.”
Higginbotham assured the commission and stakeholders that, “The Arkansas Waterways Commission has agreed to be the cost-share sponsor for the Three Rivers Study.”
The commissioners will take all the information they gather and write a report that will include their recommendations for any improvements or changes to the navigation system. The report will be provided to the U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, who will then use the information to provide testimony during congressional hearings.