Arkansas River dams, again

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Here we go again. Officials, led by an alleged fiscal conservative, are pumping us up to raise our taxes to pour concrete in the river.

[Tom] Dittus is the managing partner of the Blue Rose Café at 19th and Riverside, and wishes he had some neighbors.

"Hopefully people will see what we've done down here. We would really welcome some company down here and like to see some more development," he said.

Dittus isn't likely to get neighbors, as the section of River Parks around him is unlikely to be opened for development.

City Councilor GT Bynum said Blue Rose isn't the only sign of private investment.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars being invested along the Arkansas River right now," said Bynum.

A lot of that money is going to the new Margaritaville hotel the Creek Nation is building at the River Spirit Casino.

If the Creeks and the George Kaiser Family Foundation are investing hundreds of millions of dollars along the river with the river in its current condition, why should the public divert money away from public safety and street repair to change the river's condition. Is the real reason to attract new investment or to satisfy the desires of politically powerful organizations that are already heavily invested?

The new task force will look at how to attract more development.

Some previous suggestions include repairing and even adding dams to keep water in the river, adding parking along Riverside, making Riverside easier to drive and creating more public-private partnerships on land development.

I seem to recall that we had an Arkansas River task force in 2004 and 2005, led by our regional planning agency, INCOG. Do we really need a new task force, or do these people just not like the results of the last one?

"It's not gonna be a river walk like in San Antonio. There'll be different types of developments in different areas, and part of it will be left natural like it is now," said Vic Vreeland, consultant for the Muscogee Creek Nation.

Veeland thinks now is the time to make it all happen.

"There's a small percentage of people that don't want to see anything done on the river. But for the most part, I think 85, 90 percent of the people want to see the river developed. The naysayer people are just the ones that they don't want to agree on how it's paid for," said Vreeland.

Ol' Vic is absolutely right that it won't be like San Antonio. The San Antonio River is about as wide as a neighborhood street and is surrounded by historic buildings and overhung with live oaks. You can see and be seen, hear and be heard on both sides of the Paseo del Rio.

A wide expanse of water isn't very interesting unless you can sail on it or watch the sunset over it. (Personal trivia: I planned my marriage proposal for the nearest spot to Tulsa where the sun would set over the water in January -- Walnut Creek State Park on the north shore of Keystone Reservoir.) Although OKC dammed the North Canadian River, the interesting waterfront development is on the artificial Bricktown Canal (about as wide as the San Antonio River). The dammed North Canadian is just a big rectangle of water bounded by a treeless shore. Not much to look at.

Water is most interesting as it interacts with the land -- waterfalls, river bends, shorelines, breaking waves, piers and boardwalks. The Arkansas River, as the water rises and falls, twisting and turning around sandbars, attracting herons and bald eagles and other wildlife, is far more fascinating than a flat monotonous expanse of water.

And a flat monotonous expanse of water is not guaranteed, even if more dams are built. The Southwestern Power Administration and the Corps of Engineers control the gates at Keystone Dam for power generation, flood control, and recreation on Keystone Reservoir. And even they are at the mercy of the weather.

What water makes it downstream from Keystone is laden with silt, which precipitates out as the river bends and broadens and as the water slows. If a dam is built, its impoundment will have to be dredged on a regular basis. Who will pay for that?

I suspect that former Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland's new client has the wherewithal, thanks to a tax on the mathematically challenged, to build a low-water dam to benefit its new resort. A case could be made that it owns the site of the proposed dam as well and would only need permission of the Corps of Engineers to proceed. In the 1980s, when the State of Oklahoma sought to tax Creek Nation Bingo at 81st and Riverside (now the site of the Creek Nation's River Spirit Casino), a U. S. District Court found and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the land had never been allotted and had never passed out of Muscogee Creek Nation ownership. (The U. S. Supreme Court denied the Oklahoma Tax Commission's petition for certiorari in the case, 87-1068.)

From a June 28, 1988, story in the Daily Oklahoman:

The Muscogee Creek bingo games are conducted in Tulsa on 100 acres along the Arkansas River . The 10th Circuit court said the land is Indian territory in the same way any reservation belongs to native Americans.

The bingo hall was located on land that had never been owned by anyone other than the tribe. It was vacant until 1984, when the tribe trucked in enough fill dirt to raise the hall above the level of the river .

The Creeks own land on both sides of that stretch of the river, with their purchase of the Riverwalk Crossing development in Jenks. If they find it advantageous to their business interests to build a dam to hold whatever water in the river trickles down from Keystone Dam and Zink Dam, then let them do the cost/benefit analysis and build it if it makes good business sense. It's hard to see how it benefits the non-Creek residents of Tulsa to spend their tax dollars to enhance the appeal of tribal-owned businesses, where sales taxes are not collected, which compete with private and city-owned entertainment venues, where sales taxes are collected.

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1 Comments

Graychin said:


Why the obsession with water in the Arkansas River. The old prairie river is pretty darn interesting just like it is, "as the water rises and falls, twisting and turning around sandbars, attracting herons and bald eagles and other wildlife."

All that new dams will accomplish is to make a mess for another generation to clean up, just as the dam and Zink Lake need cleaning up now. And destroying the natural (but unappreciated) beauty of a prairie river.

"There's a small percentage of people that don't want to see anything done on the river." Leaving the prairie river in its natural state isn't the same thing as doing nothing on the river. I would like to see us develop the heck out of the river bank, but it shouldn't all be commercial development so someone can make a fast buck.

The River Parks are a great start. So is the Gathering Place.

Tulsa should tear down the existing dam, and LEAVE THE RIVER ALONE.

(Maybe fourth time will be the charm on the Captcha) :-(

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 16, 2013 11:57 PM.

Delta's merry safety video was the previous entry in this blog.

Does the Muscogee Creek Nation own the Arkansas River bed? is the next entry in this blog.

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