NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Turnpike turmoil continued in Norman Thursday night, this time with concern over the city’s water supply.
In their duty to protect the waters of Lake Thunderbird, the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District Board of Directors made it formally clear that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority must involve them in their design plans according to federal law.
A part of the $5 billion Access Oklahoma plan, OTA is proposing a new turnpike along Indian Hills Road, one that would connect Newcastle to Norman. They’re also wanting to extend the Kickapoo Turnpike west of Lake Thunderbird, essentially connecting the Kickapoo Turnpike to Purcell.
The Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District voted Thursday to send a letter to the OTA concerning their proposed turnpike which would be constructed near Lake Thunderbird and within its watershed. In the letter they state that they, “expect to be actively engaged partners in the process moving forward.”
COMCD, through a contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, operates and maintains water supply infrastructure at—and assists in maintaining property around—Lake Thunderbird. The District is also responsible for operation and maintenance of the dam, including flood releases as ordered by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Through contracts with the cities of Norman, Midwest City and Del City, COMCD provides critical raw water supply to over 200,000 people in the counties of Cleveland and Oklahoma.
“Given the significant importance of the lake as detailed above, and to ensure that the District can fulfill its obligation to provide quality drinking water in sufficient quantities to our member cities, we take very seriously any development or project within the watershed that may affect our ability to do so,” The approved letter states. “The Board believes this project is of a magnitude that warrants our full attention. As such, we intend and expect to be actively engaged partners in the process moving forward and exercise our rights and jurisdiction to the extent allowed by law to ensure that our interests are protected.”
After the vote, Board President Amanda Nairn further explained matters to KFOR.
“So, the federal government requires certain evaluations when building something on their property, evaluations of the environment, archeology, geology, many, many different environments, and different assessments,” she said. “All we’re stating is that we do have jurisdiction here and you cannot cross our property, whether those are our pipeline easements, our flow agreements or our real property without conducting those assessments. That is required by the federal government.”
OTA spokeswoman Jessica Brown tells KFOR they’ve heard the message loud and clear.
“We understand that we will work with the Bureau of Reclamation, we’ll work with the Conservancy District to make sure that we’re following all the guidelines as we go,” she said. “They will be side by side with us. We’ll also have other U.S. federal and state agencies making sure we’re doing the right things.”
Brown said the intent of the turnpike is to take congestion off of I-35.
“The congestion is critical to this point for the safety of Oklahomans and motorists to use I-35,” she said. “It’s so congested right now that we’re seeing more and more crashes and we have to find a reliever route. We’ve looked at many different areas over decades where this route should be the placeed, and the proposed placement right now, we believe, is that route.”
Among concerns about the turnpike are that many homes, potentially hundreds, could be displaced through eminent domain, and that its construction could have grave environmental effects.
“So that’s why we’re doing the environmental impact studies right now,” she said. “To make sure we know of everything that’s going on in those areas to avoid, minimize or mitigate any impacts.”
She’s is also reminding the public of their scheduled meetings to hear concerns directly. They have four planned, with the first one on April 14 at Noble High School. The other dates and locations can be seen on the Access Oklahoma Website.