The Grand River Dam Authority’s administrative headquarters in Vinita. Courtesy GRDA

LOCUST GROVE — The Grand River Dam Authority’s Board of Directors voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize the sale of its headquarters building in Vinita for $1.5 million to a nonprofit organization that serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Grand River Dam Authority, a nonprofit and non-appropriated quasi-state agency created by the Legislature, has been headquartered in Vinita since its founding in 1935.

It was created to control, develop and maintain the Grand River waterway, including power generation through hydroelectric dams on the river. It has since expanded to electricity generation through coal-fired power plants, natural gas, and wind farms, and has electrical customers throughout eastern Oklahoma. The organization also has its own police force with jurisdiction in counties that GRDA owns or leases property in, and in 2016 it absorbed the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and its powers and duties to protect, enhance and preserve the Illinois River and its tributaries.

GRDA plans to build a new headquarters building within the next 18 to 24 months at the Grand River Energy Center, near the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Chouteau, and has set aside $14 million for its design and construction, though the exact size and cost of the building has yet to be determined.

GRDA CEO Dan Sullivan said the hope is to have the sale finalized by April 1. The board’s authorization of the sale is subject to Sullivan’s approval of the final terms and conditions.

GRDA received only two bids for the building — one from Grand Lake Mental Health Center and one from Home of Hope. Home of Hope’s bid of $1,501,000 was $965 higher than Grand Lake Mental Health’s bid.

Home of Hope CEO Ralph Richardson, who attended Tuesday’s board meeting, said his organization, which also has offices in Rogers, Delaware and Ottawa counties, has been in the same building in Vinita since 1968, and the purchase would help alleviate both maintenance costs and space concerns.

“This is absolutely a godsend for us and a step forward for us,” Richardson said. “I literally have people I’m looking to employ right now that we’re trying to figure out if we employ them in the next couple of months where they’re going to be, because we are out of space in the current building.”

Home of Hope employs around 600 people in northeastern Oklahoma, many of which have intellectual or developmental disabilities, Richardson said. About 170 of those employees are based in Vinita. The new building should have room for about 48 offices, with plenty of room to expand, he said.

“We’re looking to expand in all kinds of ways in terms of outreach,” Richardson said. “Just having the presence, and the location and the ability to grow, this is a fantastic thing for us. We’re excited. I think it’s going to be a fantastic thing for Vinita and northeast Oklahoma.”

John Wiscaver, vice president of corporate and strategic communications for GRDA, said the sale of the Vinita building would help GRDA help consolidate its operations and become more efficient, since many of its workers and operations are already located at GREC.

The organization is still considering its options to provide temporary offices for the workers who were at Vinita, Wiscaver said.

During its October meeting, the GRDA’s Board of Directors approved a $1.4 million no-bid contract to hire the Tulsa-based engineering and architectural firm Cyntergy to design and oversee construction of the new GRDA headquarters building, though a construction contract has yet to be approved. Cyntergy has worked on GRDA’s Tulsa offices, and is currently working on the multi-use development known as “The District” at Mid-America Industrial Park.

An early rendering of the proposed new GRDA headquarters at the Grand River Energy Center, presented during the GRDA Board of Director’s October 2019 meeting. Courtesy/GRDA.

GRDA has budgeted $2 million in its 2020 budget for the design of the new facility.

In other GRDA news, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday sent the $738 billion 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to President Donald Trump to sign. The bill has a provision in it, inserted by Sen. Jim Inhofe that would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sole authority over flood control issues caused by GRDA’s Pensacola Dam.

The city of Miami, which sits upstream on the Neosho River from the dam, for years has said that the dam has caused flooding there, and as GRDA’s license for Pensacola Dam is up for renewal in 2022 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Miami residents and officials, as well as tribal members and officials from several American Indian tribes in the area have sought to have FERC require that GRDA buy up flood lands in the area.

GRDA’s Pensacola Dam, located in Langley. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

The amendment by Inhofe, who owns a lake home on Grand Lake, would take the authority to do so away from FERC and protect the GRDA, advocates say.

“It will be very beneficial, a demarcation line between what FERC has jurisdiction over on the lake levels and the Corps of Engineers,” Sullivan said during Tuesday’s meeting.

State Sen. Michael Bergstrom, who represents the Miami area attended Tuesday’s meeting with several other legislators. Bergstrom said people in Miami are “frustrated” by the bill that passed the Senate.

Sullivan replied that the bill has a provision in it requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study on upstream flooding, and that it has always been the position of GRDA that the responsibility is on the Corps of Engineers.

“Certainly, it’s been our position, and we’re not in agreement with the folks in Miami or at least many of them, that we control to the top of our conservation pool and it’s the Corps of Engineers responsibility above that,” Sullivan said.

“It’s a longstanding issue in Miami, a community we serve as one of our public utility customers, so we want them to be successful in their endeavors as well,” he said.