Hundreds are expected to gather Tuesday to hear discussion and ask questions about the potential of flooding in Miami and Ottawa County. It won't be the first meeting of its kind here. But, some are hoping that it will be the first time they get real answers.
Representatives of the Grand River Dam Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, along with a litany of other agencies and governing bodies, have met after every major flood, according to longtime residents who have watched waters repeatedly inundate Miami throughout the decades.
“Every time we have a major flood, we have a meeting, said Jack Dalrymple, who recently settled a lawsuit with GRDA for flood damages incurred on his property. “But nothing has been done to solve the problem of flooding. Nothing has ever came about because of those meetings.
Dalrymple said he has little faith that Tuesday's gathering will bring any different result.
Dr. Mark Osborn, a lifetime resident who has been outspoken about the need to resolve flooding issues in Miami, said last week that Tuesday's meeting could bring a positive step forward if presenters stay on point and the meeting does not get bogged down with questions that prevent the experts from addressing “the real questions of flooding that need to be answered.
Tuesday's meeting is slated for 11 a.m. at the Miami Civic Center where GRDA, the Corps and FERC will join the City of Miami, Ottawa County, Oklahoma Emergency Management, Oklahoma Water Resources Board and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Each will offer a five-minute presentation with the exception of the Corps which will present additional information, according to the office of Congressman Dan Boren who organized the meeting.
“The important questions have been asked before - Are the easements adequate? Who is responsible for purchasing the easements needed to properly operate the dam? and Is GRDA compliant with its license, Osborn said. “But, they have never been answered directly It is time to do so.
The Questions at Hand
Are the easements adequate?
Here is what is known:
In 1947, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a map that defined the backwater effects in the Arkansas Grand River Basin. The map, which was supported by an engineering study, was a precursor to a 1948 report which indicated a need to acquire flowage easements on 11,750 additional acres in the upper reaches of the reservoir. Discussions continued between the Federal Power Commission, the Department of the Interior, GRDA and the U.S. Corps of Engineers concerning the need for additional acquisitions through 1951 when Miami experienced its greatest flood of record.
In 1948, a report by the Corps indicated the need to purchase the additional 11,750 acres as more than 1,600 structures in Miami were at risk of flooding - including the fairgrounds, the city pool, parts of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and the city's avenues of ingress and egress.
In the same year, the Corps recommended that early action be taken to initiate a program for acquisition of flowage easements on the required additional lands. The estimated cost, at that time, was $1.1 million.
In 1951, a letter penned by the district engineer of the Corps noted the following: “During the past few weeks this office has had occasion to consider carefully the advisability of attempting to schedule any action towards additional land acquisition in the Pensacola reservoir it appears probable that any steps towards acquisition of additional lands would be considered as an admission that operation of the reservoir during the 1951 floods had caused damage to areas above those on which easements had been acquired.
In 1957, Corps officials stated that the requirement for additional easements was based on theory. It was then decided that, due to the absence of claims, landowners were “apparently accustomed to the condition of flooding and that the economical thing to do was pay damages rather than purchase flowage rights.
The Corps gathered information on the backwater effects experienced in 1951, 1957 and 1959 - then reclassified the easement acquisition project to “inactive status.
In 1974, the Corps acknowledged that lands ranging up to base flood elevation 769 were needed in the upper reaches of the reservoir.
Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing a new study. It would be a subsequent study to preliminary efforts conducted in the past, according to Corps officials. It will take an estimated $3 million to $4 million and several years to complete, but would point the Corps to corrective measures.
Who is responsible for
purchasing the easements?
Here is what is known:
In 1985, after the rule curve of Grand Lake was increased from 735 to 745, GRDA's license was restructured and the language of the license included a mandate that, within five years, the licensee “acquire title in fee of the right to use in perpetuity all lands, other than lands of the United States, necessary or appropriate for the construction, maintenance and operation of the project.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reiterated the points of the license in a 1994 court filing in which the commission responded to GRDA's opposition to a motion to dismiss the Corps as a third party in a class-action lawsuit led by Jack Dalrymple and approximately 100 other property owners. In a supplemental filing, FERC argued that “the license issued by the commission placed the responsibility of acquiring easements and operating the facility squarely on GRDA.
GRDA has always maintained that the purchase of easements is the responsibility of the Corps.
In July, John Roberts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' top civilian, said the issue of who will pay for the purchase of easements will likely be resolved by the courts.
Is GRDA in
with its license?
Here is what is known:
The terms and conditions of the Grand River Dam Authority's license to operate the Pensacola Project requires that the licensee “acquire title in fee of the right to use in perpetuity all lands, other than lands of the United States, necessary or appropriate for the construction, maintenance and operation of the project.
A 1998 study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states that operation of the Pensacola Dam has exceeded flowage easements. It further states that future operation will also exceed existing flowage easements.