The Frontier

The Tulsa City Council’s Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force on Thursday agreed on a $298 million preliminary proposal to build and/or overhaul four low-water dams in the Arkansas River. The dams would be located in Sand Springs, Tulsa (Zink Dam), Jenks and Bixby.

The nearly $300 million price tag includes funding for construction and design of the dams, maintenance and operations, levee repairs and bonding fees.

“I feel very good about where we are now,” City Councilor and Task Force Chairman G.T. Bynum said after the meeting. “It (the preliminary proposal) was the consensus of the task force … and all of the amounts we have studied at great length.”

The next step in the process will be for participating communities to hold public meetings at which residents can ask questions and give input. The task force will then incorporate the public’s input into its finally proposal, which is expected to go to voters in the fall.

“If the public identifies things that we missed — which can happen very easily — then we can come back and tweak it,” Bynum said.

Tulsa-area residents have previously rejected several sales-tax-funded proposals to build dams in the Arkansas River.

One key difference between those failed initiatives and the current proposal is the scope of funding. Most earlier dam proposals would have been funded by the entire county. The latest proposal would be funded by the primary beneficiaries of the project — Sand Springs, Tulsa, Jenks, Sand Springs and certain portions of unincorporated Tulsa County.

The proposal calls for those communities to dedicate 0.3 percent of a Vision 2025 renewal to fund the dams. The tax would run 11 years and begin in January 2017.

The current proposal includes another first for a Tulsa dam project — a $30 million maintenance and operations endowment.

Interest from the endowment would be used to pay for those services in perpetuity, Bynum said. Funds would also be set aside annually for major capital replacements, repairs and maintenance.

Of the nearly $300 estimated cost, only $25 million has been designated for bond fees. The consensus of the task force, Bynum said, was to pay for the dams as you go.

Work would be financed only if it would result in savings, such as locking in the cost of concrete or some other major expenditure, Bynum said.

“It gives us some flexibility,” he said.

The task force was created more than a year and a half ago after several city councilors and other city officials visited Pittsburgh, Pa., with the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.

After seeing the development along that city’s rivers, councilors — in cooperation with the Mayor’s Office — decided to put together the task force to identify Tulsa’s river-development goals and create a plan to implement them.

“We have come a long way from where we were 19 months ago,” Bynum said.

Here are the highlights of the proposal:

Dams – $238.8 million
Operations and Maintenance – $30 million
Bonding – $25 million
Levee repairs – $4.2 million*
*This would not cover cost of levee repairs, but simply cover the unfunded portion of the $12.9 million in matching funds needed to apply for federal assistance.

Residents of Sand Springs, Tulsa, Jenks and Bixby and parts of unincorporated Tulsa County would be asked to dedicate 0.3 percent of a Vision 2025 sales tax renewal to fund the projects.
The tax would run 11 years beginning in January 2017.
The 0.6 percent Vision 2025 sales tax expires at the end of 2016.

Each community will hold public meetings this summer to discuss the proposal. The task force will incorporate the public’s input into its final proposal before it is voted on in the fall.

All meetings begin at 6 p.m.
June 10 – Martin Regional Library, 2601 S. Garnett Road.
June 15 – Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E. 93rd St. South
June 22 – Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N. Hartford Ave.
June 29 – Jewish Federation of Tulsa, 2021 E. 71st St.
July 1 – Perkins Family Auditorium, OU-Tulsa Learning Center, 4502 E. 41st St.

Several steps must take place before a vote can be held on the dams:

  1. Establish a trust authority. The authority would be charged with overseeing the operation and funding of the dams. Authority members have not been determined yet but are expected to include representatives from Tulsa, Sand Springs, Bixby, Jenks, Tulsa County and the Creek Nation.
  2. Establish an economic development district. The district would define the boundary within which the dam tax would be levied. The district is established by consensus in each participating community.
  3. Trust authority requests vote on a 0.3 percent sales tax.
  4. The governing body of each participating community within the development district votes to call an election within its boundaries. Each participating community would vote on the initiative on the same day. The total vote county – not the city-by-city count – determines whether the proposal passes and fails.


The dams would be built over the next decade, with completion expected in 2027.
The order of work would be Tulsa/Zink dam, Jenks dam, Sand Springs dam and Bixby dam.