River Considerations

By David Arnett, Publisher    
Monday, 02 October 2006
News Analysis

"Potential" by Aaron Svenby
As public debate begins on plans for Arkansas River development in Tulsa County, it is bizarre to hear opposition voices wailing against “whatever.”  The “I-don’t-care-what-the-plan-is–I’m-against it” crowd fouls their credibility in rage.  Sadly, these are many of the same people who opposed Vision 2025 and are still berating the propositions without cause three years after passage, even as the local economy continues to reap benefit and a plethora of projects are completed.

Fortunately, pinheads in aluminum foil hats do not constitute the majority in Tulsa.  Loud, embittered in defeat, and sucking off the dregs of local non-credible media – yes, but primarily they are rabid right and loony leftists so far to the fringe they reach harmony in unfounded conspiracy delusions.  

The real story of Tulsa’s turn to develop our second-greatest natural resource is that innovative plans are developing from multiple sources focused on a common goal.  Tulsa is a river city and now, after 100 years, it is time to enhance what God in this good land has provided.

Current Status of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan

Planning Phases 1 (Vision Plan) and 2 (Master Plan) are complete with final adoption of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan by numerous public entities including the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Tulsa City Council, and Tulsa County.  The Master Plan was completed in October 2005 and the Tulsa County Commission adopted the plan in March of 2006.  INCOG and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) sponsored Phases 1 and 2.

Phase 3 of the river planning process has begun under a similar agreement between the Corps and Tulsa County as the local sponsor.  Vision 2025 funding dedicated for river development projects matched equally with federal funds from the Corps is funding Phase 3 and subsequent phases of the Master Plan.  The purpose of Phase 3 is to perform the environmental studies required to ultimately receive the federal permits needed to construct the Vision 2025 river projects.  Contractors began collecting seasonal environmental information throughout the Tulsa County river corridor this summer and expect this phase of the project to be completed in about 15 months.

Recently, other Tulsa area groups, unrelated to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Planning effort, have proposed development projects in the river corridor.  These proposed projects began a thorough public review by the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Advisory Committee (Advisory Committee) of their potential feasibility on Friday, September 23.

One such project is called The Channels, proposed by Tulsa Stakeholders Inc. (TSI), which has been covered by Tulsa Today (click here for more) and other media in the past few weeks.  While The Channels project – and probably more concepts to come – has been developed by private groups, the review and adoption process used in the Master Planning effort will be utilized to determine if these new concepts should – or should not – be incorporated into the overall Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.  TSI requested this review.

A diverse group of qualified professionals, neighborhood activists, and elected officials comprise the 60-member Advisory Group and 14-member Steering Group.  Individual Working Groups will focus review efforts on specified functional areas fundamental to any river development.  The TSI consultant team will assist in the review process with each Working Group by presenting the technical materials generated through their planning and design process to date and discussing assumptions and all issues germane to that Working Group’s area.

As announced, the Working Group areas of focus are:
   Infrastructure and Civil Works Issues
   Environmental Issues
   Legal, Institutional and Regulatory Issues
   Public Safety Issues
   Financial and Economic Issues
   Relationship to the River Master Plan and Implementation Strategies

Opposition Plan?

Attending the September 23 meeting was longtime Tulsa tax opponent Dan Hicks, along with one supporter and his “No River Tax” signs.  Surprisingly, Hicks also has a plan and provided reporters a computer-generated drawing of his vision for riverside development.

It is unclear if Hicks submitted the drawing formally to the Advisory Group and although no supportive cost or construction details accompanied it, it was good to see at least one identified opposition voice providing a constructive idea for consideration.  Let’s hope he was serious, but how serious can an idea be without technical detail?

To their credit, TSI has engaged some brilliant minds in creating The Channels project.  It would be fantastic if two or three other groups with competing visions would also come forward as prepared for public review as TSI.

Would it be too sarcastic to suggest that before some radio shock-jock trashes The Channels plan that he/she/it come up with an alternative?  What about the local lawyer who launched the “Do The River First” Web site?  – You would think someone so authoritative in demand should actually come up with a plan.

Tulsa Today’s Positions

The Arkansas River is not the only part of the metropolitan area that should be considered for development and enhancement.  In fact, a growing city should welcome and explore all plans for the betterment of the community, but as one critic was told – before he was asked to sit down – at the most recent Tulsa Now board meeting, “This is not a zero-sum game.”

Currently downtown Tulsa is developing with increasing intensity, as is the River Walk area in Jenks and the east bank within Tulsa’s city limits.  Public monies are available from Tulsa County’s Vision 2025 and the City of Tulsa third-penny infrastructure packages for many different geographical segments of the community, including the river.  Now that the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan has been adopted, other communities along the 42 miles of Arkansas River within Tulsa County could dedicate additional monies from their budgets.

Do you have a plan for the river?  Pull some details together and submit it.  Let the public debate begin.  Tulsa Today is interviewing opposition voices and those in support of one or the other plan(s), and we will post those in the coming weeks and months.  We will interview public officials and private leaders to bring our readers the most diverse, credible voices of the community on this important issue.

We will look back at some of the ideas that were dropped from the Corridor Master Plan that could be reinserted.  For example, an All-Terrain Vehicle Park was planned on a sandbar near Broken Arrow, but a few officials feared liability – an issue that with a bit of planning, could be resolved for all concerned.  

As publisher, I do not intend to conduct all interviews on this subject or to be the sole development analyst on this site.  Tulsa Today is established to provide diversity in public debate, because the daily print newspaper in this community does not.  As a reporter for the departed afternoon daily and other national newspapers, I have covered city and county issues for 20 years, but I currently serve as the public information manager for PMg which implements Vision 2025 and 4-to-Fix.  My effort there provides revenue that, with advertising on this site, hires reporters and editors to cover these issues and keeps content in Tulsa Today free for you to read – something our average of over 100,000 page views per month demonstrates you are doing.  Thanks.

Feel free to e-mail editor@tulsatoday.com if you have a plan for Arkansas River development or a comment on other plans currently in consideration.  In fact, Tulsa Today has been on the winning side of every public policy vote since we launched in 1996, primarily because our readers and reporters communicate frankly and often.  Disagree or agree about anything anytime and we will hear you out – you have my pledge as publisher.

In fact, a couple of daily newspaper reporters and I were having an adult beverage at the Tulsa Press Club the other day when one said, “You don’t care what I think.”  She was wrong; I do care what she thinks and what everyone else in and outside of Tulsa thinks about this city I love.  I am just not going to change my opinions or limit discourse because of what others think, no matter how influential, wealthy, poor, employed or not may they be – so help me God and supportive advertisers.

Let the debate begin.
Last Updated ( Monday, 02 October 2006 )