Inhofe: Arkansas River system facing $225M backlog in upkeep

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An Arkansas River system that runs from Tulsa to the Mississippi River is facing a $225 million backlog of "critical" upkeep projects after being hampered for months by historic flooding in Oklahoma, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said.

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The Environmental and Public Works Committee's senior member submitted a statement Wednesday for a committee hearing to discuss the next Water Resources and Development Act legislation, the Tulsa World reported.

The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, is 445 miles (716 kilometers) long. The waterway has 18 locks and dams, 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma.

Inhofe said the system supports financial activity across a 12-state region, moving 10.9 million tons (9.89 million metric tons) of commerce worth $3.5 billion yearly. But he noted Tulsa's port has been closed to barge traffic since May.

A maintenance project to upgrade the waterway is considered "critical," the senator said. The upkeeps include Tainter gates that need to be replaced at several locks throughout the system and fixing decades-old concrete structures with exposed rebar integral to dam operation.

"Should any one of these critical maintenance projects fail before it can be addressed, use of the whole system would be impossible," Inhofe said.

Muskogee County Commissioner Ken Doke noted that two barges that struck the Webbers Falls Lock and Dam in May have been removed from the waterway, and minor maintenance to the dam has been completed.

Tons of silt needs to be removed from the channel and re-dredging likely won't be finished until November, Inhofe noted.

Earlier this year, the Environmental and Public Works Committee codified President Donald Trump's "One Federal Decision" process for major surface transportation infrastructure projects in America's Transportation and Infrastructure Act of 2019. Inhofe seeks to expand those authorizing reforms to inland waterway infrastructure projects.

One Federal Decision establishes a government-wide objective of reducing, to two years, each agency's average time to complete the mandatory environmental reviews and approval decisions for major infrastructure projects, as measured from the publication date of a notice of intent to draw up an environmental impact statement.

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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com