On March 3, in a public City Council committee meeting, a somewhat exasperated G.T. Bynum said the following about funding maintenance endowments for the low-water dams included in the $844.6 million Vision Tulsa proposal:
“So that all of us are super crystal clear, there are two scenarios: Either the Creek Nation — or other funding partners, potentially — fund that (maintenance) endowment, or they don’t, and the south Tulsa/Jenks dam does not get built and the savings from that go to fund the endowment on Zink Lake. Either way, the endowment (for Zink Dam) occurs under either of those scenarios.”
Councilor Bynum’s remark was made after a lengthy discussion in which Councilor Anna America urged her fellow councilors to make it clear to the public who would be paying for what when it comes to building and maintaining the south Tulsa/Jenks dam at 103rd Street and Riverside Drive.
A few hours later, city councilors did exactly that, approving an ordinance that spells out in detail what would happen if the Creek Nation — and/or other entities — decide not to contribute $18 million to fund the maintenance endowment for the dam.
So, no, there is no grand conspiracy on the part of city officials to deceive the public about the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s role in the proposed Vision Tulsa package.
So why are people confused, and some angry? Because a Feb. 15 letter from the Creek Nation to Mayor Dewey Bartlett states that the tribe would not be able to contribute to the Vision Tulsa package — at least for now — was never made public.
Instead, councilors and the Mayor’s Office worked behind the scenes to clarify the tribe’s position, and on March 8 — after a press conference promoting the river package — a joint statement from Jenks, Tulsa and the tribe was handed out stating that each believes the Vision package must be approved in Tulsa and Jenks before the tribe can consider contributing to the package.
It wasn’t until after that press conference that the public learned, thanks to the reporting of Jarrel Wade at the Tulsa World, about the Feb. 15 letter from the tribe.
Almost immediately, cries of conspiracy rang through some quarters, claiming city officials knew the tribe wasn’t going to play ball but shoved the Vision Tulsa package down Tulsans’ throats anyway.
That’s not true. It is true, however, that councilors and Mayor Dewey Bartlett didn’t exactly scream from the mountaintop the details of their talks with the Creek Nation.
Yet the information was out there for those of us who dig into these things for a living.
It hasn’t exactly been a secret around City Hall the last couple of months that city officials were working behind the scenes to secure financing from the Creek Nation but weren’t quite there yet.
This is not to say that city councilors and the mayor didn’t play a role in the confusion. By not releasing the letter, they opened up for scrutiny everything they’ve said — or didn’t say — about the project since the Creek Nation email arrived Feb. 15.
And that is exactly what is happening now.
The Vision Tulsa campaign website hasn’t helped matters.
Nowhere on the website does it state that, should the city of Jenks or the Creek Nation — or other potential funding partners — fail to contribute to the south Tulsa/Jenks dam, the project won’t be built.
In fact, the website’s Q & A section includes an explanation of why both dams are needed, when in fact one could be built without the other.
Why can’t we just rebuild Zink Dam and not build the other dam?
“Both of these new dams will play an important role in both flood control and economic development.
“Zink Dam, as it is currently built, is not suited to release large amounts of water downstream should Keystone Dam need to release water at flood stages.
“Building two new dams with the ability to lower their gates to the river floor provides much better floor control and greatly reduces the danger of flooding as well as loss of property and life along the entire Arkansas River corridor.
“The two new dams also will create two large lakes in Tulsa and Jenks that can spur economic development and positively impact the area economy.”
The website also includes this Q & A that seems to indicate that the Creek Nation is close to completing a deal with Jenks and Tulsa to provide funding for the dam. This does not reflect what the Creek Nation states in the joint press release.
Will the Muscogee (Creek) Nation be contributing to the cost, since they will benefit from it and don’t pay taxes?
“Representatives of the Creek Nation have been active members of the Regional Arkansas River Task Force since its creation. The tribe has been in discussions to contribute funding for its share of the project and will work closely with Tulsa and Jenks officials in the coming months to finalize those plans.”
Does all of this this amount to a grand conspiracy to deceive the public? I say no.
I say city officials did their best to accommodate a fluid situation without giving away every gory detail of their negotiations. Those of us who ask questions for a living didn’t ask enough of them, and the PR folks did what PR folks do — put the project they are promoting in the best possible light.
We could probably all do better next time.