Even people who live close to Tulsa Ports are often unaware of the barges steadily moving millions of tons of goods across the country.
Andrew Ralston, the Tulsa Ports economic development director, said many people think the iconic Blue Whale is the biggest thing in the water around Catoosa.
“It’s a unique story in that people around us don’t know we exist but people outside of Tulsa do know we exist,” he said. “Everybody who interacts with shipping on the inland river system knows about the Port of Catoosa.”
Despite its quiet outside appearance, Tulsa Ports is known nationally and internationally for its presence on the Oklahoma Waterways and eventual connection to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.
There are two locations in the Tulsa Ports’ operation, one just north of Catoosa and the other comma much newer one comma in Inola. The Port of Catoosa is a 2,500-acre shipping and industrial park complex that houses 70 businesses and about 3,000 workers collectively. The Port of Inola has a similar total acreage footprint but is still being developed, with 2,200 available acres.
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Only about 17 of the companies situated on the Port of Catoosa use the waterway or railroad infrastructure. The other companies lease that land to have prime position that is close to a source of raw materials.
“We ship about two million tons of materials in and out by barge every year,” Ralston said. Ralston said about 90% of goods that come through the Port of Catoosa are agricultural. Pelletized fertilizer, liquid fertilizer, and grain (mainly soybeans and wheat) from many different states, are some of the most-shipped products.
Steel makes up much of the rest of the traffic. “We also ship oversize and over dimensional products,” Ralston said.
Sometimes, waterways are the only way to transport massive, heavy objects such as windmill towers.
“When large machinery is fabricated comma we ship it out via our main dock as well as our low-water wharf.
Those are products that can’t necessarily be shipped over the road.
“A lot of those structures are built in Tulsa comma but the only way it gets out is through the waterways because of the size of the product.”
Tulsa Ports are built to handle massive shipments efficiently.
“One regular hopper barge can carry 1,500 tons and is approximately 195 feet long,” Ralston said. “That’s the equivalent of approximately 60 (18-wheeler) trucks. One towboat can move 12 barges on our system. Each towboat, with three diesel engines, can move the equivalent of 720 trucks in one movement.”
The Port of Catoosa opened in 1971. In a normal shipping year, about 1,000 barges pass through.
“We’ve done a lot of work to make Port of Catoosa one of the premiere and largest inland port/industrial park in the nation,” Ralston said.
With Catoosa going strong, focus is shifting towards building up the Port of Inola, which Tulsa Ports acquired in 2019 from Public Service Company of Oklahoma.
“Now we’re working to fill that site with job creation and manufacturing,” Ralston said.
“We are looking at companies that want anywhere between 100 acres to 1,500 acres for one project and could create thousands of jobs in each development. Tulsa Port of Inola is the future of economic development for the Tulsa Region.