OK Legislator urges Tulsa betrayal

When legislators return to the State Capitol next week to convene the 2012 session, lawmakers will be taking another look at a $25 million bond issue they originally authorized in 2009 for the Arkansas River in Tulsa County.  That’s after the Council of Bond Oversight voted last week to require
that a Concurrent Resolution be passed in order to have the original
bonds issued.

Sen. Patrick Anderson applauded the Council’s decision in a press release today, considering the significant changes in the proposal since it was first approved three years ago.

“My fellow members and I were asked to approve a $25 million bond package back in 2009 that was to be used not only for the Zink Dam improvements, but several other infrastructure projects along the Arkansas River in Tulsa County,” said Anderson, R-Enid.  “Now the River Parks Authority is seeking to have all those funds spent on one single project.  We absolutely need to take another look at this before obligating the taxpayers of Oklahoma for those bonds.”

Anderson’s press release states, "In 2009 legislators were told the $25 million bond project would be matched with $50 million in federal funds.  Proponents compared the Arkansas River improvements to those made in Oklahoma City along the Oklahoma River, and claimed a projected economic impact of $2.8 billion and 9,450 new jobs.  However, Anderson noted, the federal funding was never approved and the project has never moved forward." 

Anderson is mistaken in fact.  The Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan continues.  Federal funding of $50 million was authorized within the U.S. Water Resources Development Act (WARDA) of 2007.  While authorized, the majority of funding has not yet been appropriated by the U.S. Congress, but a small amount has arrived and Tulsa County voters have additionally approved $10 million in funds within the 4-to-Fix and Vision 2025 infrastructure programs.   

“Now, three years later, the River Parks Authority is asking the State to issue those bonds and intends to use the entire $25 million to only fund improvements for the Zink Dam,” Anderson said.  “The issue is not whether the Zink Dam needs repairs, but whether it is a proper and intended use of these funds.  Article X, Section 16 of the Oklahoma Constitution requires that bond funds be used for the specific purpose that the legislature intended.  Therefore, I agree with the recommendation of the Council of Bond Oversight to require a Concurrent Resolution from the legislature before these bonds are ever issued.”

Anderson failed to mention the State funds are specified to support the continuing development of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.  Zink Dam is a part of that plan.  River Parks, seeing the Federal delay, is targeting promised state funds for the most critical, cost effective, and immediate improvement possible.

Setting aside the obvious fact that the Arkansas River is the most obvious undeveloped geographical asset in all of Oklahoma; the current function of the Keystone Dam is destroying land and, some suggest, building a new "grand canyon" in Tulsa County.

Other states envy such a magnificent natural asset with tremendous commercial and environmental potential for all of Northeastern Oklahoma.  All Oklahoma legislators should appreciate increases in levels of state revenue that would be generated from development.  Even casual visitors marvel at how Oklahoma could have ignored the Arkansas River for so long in Tulsa County.  

Further, no mention was made by Sen. Anderson of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum (AICCM) in Oklahoma City.  State funding has already arrived at that project and more is requested for a project that should have been funded in total by Oklahoma Tribal governments. 

That’s right, many tribes that refused to participate in the shared history of Oklahoma’s Centennial have not even funded common promotion of their own history.  They must be too busy with casino business. Now Oklahoma taxpayers are on the hook for what looks to be a $107 million white elephant project in Oklahoma City?  (Click here for more on the AICCM).

With $100 million, the entire Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan could be built.  Then, with water in the river and a functional healthy environment, multiple municipalities could see private development investments skyrocket thus benefiting every Oklahoman. This project has been approved four times by the Oklahoma Legislature. 

On Monday, January 30th, the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (OCIA) met and several from Tulsa attended.   The mood was positive and they voted unanimously to approve the bonds and also asked that the Council of Bond Oversight call a special meeting to rescind its two stipulations.  Apparently it is highly unusual for these two boards to be out of sync.  That special meeting has been set for February 9th at 10:00 a.m.

Senator Anderson should talk with someone with a clue before issuing press releases.