Port of Muskogee reports ‘surprisingly strong’ barge activity in April

May 13, 2020: Muskogee Phoenix (full link below)

The Port of Muskogee reported brisk shipping activity in April for cargo imported by barge, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on shipments by rail and truck.

Port Director Scott Robinson described barge tonnage in April as "surprisingly strong" considering the economic toll claimed by the novel coronavirus as it spread around the globe. Figures reported on Tuesday show barge tonnage recorded in April hit levels not seen since December 2018, and it was the port's best April for barge tonnage since 2014.

Robinson attributed much of the shipping activity along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System to "new sugar movement," which includes the shipment of imported sugar by truck to the Fort Worth, Texas, area. He said Dal-Tile's imports of feldspar transferred from a ship to 14 barges at New Orleans and shipped to Muskogee also bolstered April tonnage.

"I think going forward I would be less optimistic than this," Robinson said during a special meeting of the Muskogee City-County Port Authority. "Coils for Paragon Industries are still coming in strong on the river — that has weakened our rail traffic, which is probably going to be weak for some time to come."

Imported and exported goods shipped by barge in April totaled 74,343 tons. That represents an increase of 38.3% — or 28,471 tons — from the 45,872 tons shipped during the same month of 2019.

Barge tonnage for the first four months of the year totaled 170,027 tons. That falls below the year-to-date total of 182,107 tons recorded in 2019 by 7.10%, or 12,080 tons.

In addition to feldspar, sugar and steel coils, April barge cargo included fertilizer, clay, nepheline syenite and coal, which arrived on 43 barges. There were no exports shipped in April by barge.

April rail tonnage at the Port of Muskogee totaled 10,802 tons, a 93.71% decrease — or 10,122 tons — from the 20,924 tons shipped by rail during the same period a year ago. Year-to-date rail cargo totaling 117,449 tons exceeded 2019 year-to-date totals, with tonnage up 12.2% from the 103,124 tons reported a year ago.

Imported commodities that arrived in April by rail consisted primarily of pipe and hemicellulose extract, which arrived along with seven other commodities on 134 cars. No commodities were exported by rail in April from the Port of Muskogee.

Truck cargo tracked in April plunged 465% when compared with figures recorded for the same period in 2019. Commodities shipped by truck totaled 18,899 tons, down 465.04% — 87,890 tons — from the 106,789 tons reported for the same month in 2019. The year-to-date total of 237,577 tons represents a 50.52% decrease from the nearly 357,610 tons reported during the first four months of 2019.

Asphalt and steel made up the bulk of the commodities imported in April on trailers pulled by 300 trucks. Exported commodities towed by 476 trucks consisted entirely of asphalt, pipe and spent refractory material.