OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) has purchased nine properties along the east-west connector portion of the proposed turnpike.
As the Oklahoman first reported Friday, one of those homes belonged to republican Representative Sherrie Conley of Newcastle. Conley also sits on the house transportation committee.
The turnpike has not been finalized, as it must still be validated by the Supreme Court.
Joe Echelle, deputy director and chief engineer for OTA, said some of the property owners reached out to the authority.
“They were building a house, or they were actively developing the property,” said Echelle. “They were preparing to sell the property, so it was already on the market.”
Echelle said Conley’s home was in the direct path of the east-west connector, which would run from Newcastle through Moore and Norman. Conley said she contacted OTA only after the plans for the new turnpike were made public. Echelle said OTA purchased the home for more than $100,000 over appraisal.
“Somewhere between 15 to 25 percent over the appraisal value is where we end up settling in property acquisitions,” said Echelle. “That is to be fair.”
The deal also allowed Conley to live in the home for a year rent-free and was given more than $25,000 in moving expenses, which Echelle said was also routine and fair to the homeowner.
Conley sent News 4 this statement:
“My husband and I loved our house. It was meant to be our forever home. We didn’t choose to be in the path of the east-west connector and would never have dreamed of trying to change the trajectory of that part of the turnpike just to benefit ourselves, which would have hurt our friends and neighbors.
The amount my husband and I received was what we were owed under the law, and nothing more. Even Amy Cerato, a leader in Pike Off the group fighting the turnpike, agreed the amount we received was “appropriate.”
We never spoke to anyone at the OTA until after the turnpike route had been publicly announced and we went through the same process as any other Oklahoman when their home is taken from them.
I knew walking through the process personally would give me insight in order to help my neighbors and constituents navigate this very emotionally-taxing situation.
We endured so much through this experience and at the end, we encountered a delay at closing which required a deposit, equaling 150% of our yearly tax bill, into an escrow account which took 3 months to resolve. As a result, I have filed a bill to ensure none of my friends, neighbors and constituents have to endure a situation that adds insult to injury when they lose their homes and property to OTA or to ODOT.
When the state makes the determination that the road you live on needs to be widened or expanded, Oklahomans must navigate this process. Having been through this myself, I can honestly say, ‘I understand what you’re going through.’
For anyone in the path of any OTA or ODOT expansion, whether they live in House District 20 or not, I hope they will reach out and allow me to help them through this very emotionally challenging process.”
Amy Cerato has been a member of Pike Off OTA since it started, which is a group fighting to keep the turnpike out of their community.
“I think it is a conflict of interest,” said Cerato. “I don’t have a problem with the amount of money she was paid. I just have a problem with the optics of her pretending to fight for the citizens while personally, financially benefiting from a really traumatic experience that the OTA is putting the citizens through.”