Sep. 2—Rogers County Commissioner Ron Burrows scored points for the county's inland ports earlier this summer when the National Association of Counties — the nation's largest convening of county leaders — adopted a resolution to support permanent funding for inland waterways.
Burrows was also reappointed as Ports Subcommittee chair on NACo's Transportation Policy Steering Committee.
NACo's Transportation Policy Steering Committee is responsible for all matters pertaining to federal transportation legislation, funding and regulation and its impacts on county government. This includes highway and bridge development, finance and safety, public transit development and finance, transportation planning, airport development and service, passenger and freight railroads, ports and waterways, freight movement, and research and development of new modes of transportation.
NACo's vote to adopt the policy resolution proposed by Burrows brings a national voice of support to long-time efforts to convince Congress to permanently fund maintenance of vital inland waterways — a move that will directly impact Rogers County's waterways and port system.
Rogers County is the sixth-largest county in the state and home to three of the nation's most inland waterway ports: Tulsa Port of Catoosa, Tulsa Port of Inola and the privately owned Oakley's Port 33.
David Yarbrough, executive director of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, credits Burrows' leadership role at NACo for bringing passion and advocacy for the state's inland waterway system to the national stage.
NACo President Mary Jo McGuire made Burrow's one-year appointment to the Transportation Committee. Burrows has served as a member of NACo's Board of Directors and is also an active member of the Rural Action Caucus and the Veterans and Military Services Committee.
Burrows shared with the annual gathering of county commissioners how important the lock and dam system are for Tulsa-area ports where barges navigate 445 miles down the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System to the Mississippi River.
"If any of one of those [locks or dam] fail, the entire system shuts down," Burrows said.
The 50-plus-year-old system has had maintenance along the way, but is in dire need of some replacement and critical maintenance, he said.
"This makes the need for permanent funding to be in place for the inland waterways," Burrows said.
Yarbrough said Tulsa Ports is grateful for the partnership with Rogers County, and for the passionate support of development initiatives from Commissioner Ron Burrows.
"His direct involvement with our organization has helped us with growth and expansion at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and for the exciting project [Enel, solar panel plant] announced earlier this year that will bring over 1,000 new jobs and at least $1.3 billion in new capital investment to the Tulsa Port of Inola," Yarbrough said.
The Port of Inola became home to international paper company Sofidel in 2020. In May this year, Enel North America picked the Inola port site to be home to what is expected to be one of the largest solar cell and panel manufacturing plants in the nation, with a $1 billion investment.
Construction on the more than two million-square-foot Enel factory will begin in the fall. The company expects to begin manufacturing solar panels by the end of 2024. The building project is anticipated to create more than 1,800 construction jobs.
"The NACo Policy Resolution regarding ongoing funding of waterway projects will lend support to the navigation industries' efforts to keep waterway infrastructure modern, efficient, and resilient and to ensure that our Nation can continue to depend on the greenest and most economical form of transportation — waterways," Yarbrough said.
There are over 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels and 237 locks within the United States. Around 20% of the nation's freight moves along these channels on an annual basis, outpacing tractor trailers and railcars.
That percentage includes close to 11 million tons of cargo in and out of Oklahoma ports each year. The Port of Catoosa's largest exports are agricultural products.
"Being reappointed as Ports Subcommittee Chair on NACo's Transportation Policy Steering Committee is of utmost importance for Rogers County, counties in Oklahoma, and counties across the United States," Burrows said. "This empowering role allows me to help shape and influence policies that govern crucial intersections of ports and transportation. This helps ensure efficient and sustainable movement of goods while also fostering economic growth. I am honored to serve as chair to contribute to the overall success of the transportation network."
The National Association of Counties (NACo) seeks to strengthen America's counties, including nearly 40,000 county elected officials and 3.6 million county employees. Founded in 1935, NACo unites county officials to advocate for county government priorities in federal policymaking; promote exemplary county policies and practices; nurture leadership skills and expand knowledge networks; optimize county and taxpayer resources and cost savings; and enrich the public's understanding of county government. For information, go to www.naco.org.
Diana Dickinson, former Progress writer and current public information officer for Rogers County Commissioners, contributed to this story.