The Grand River Dam Authority is offering a local property owner more than a half-million dollars for land in the Neosho River bottom.
But Bill Zimmerman is not interested, calling the effort “foolish” and “un-American.”
Zimmerman said the $1,950 per-acre offer doesn’t begin to touch the value of his 300 acres that stretch along the river just north of Miami.
It is not only land that the Welch native inherited from his father, but it is rich with native pecan trees that provide Zimmerman with a healthy supplement to his retirement income. It is what he calls his “American dream” — and it is not for sale.
“I don’t understand it,” Zimmerman said. “They are going to take this land that I am paying taxes on and turn it into something that will do nothing for this county or this country … Our country is in a hell of a shape already and they are going to add to our misery. It is foolishness.”
Zimmerman, 74, contends that he has one of the best pecan groves in northeast Oklahoma with 200 acres of mature trees that consistently produce a crop that is growing at a pace of about 10 percent a year. The remaining 100 acres support a natural orchard of small native trees that he has been fertilizing, trimming, grafting and grooming for fifteen years.
The pecans of northeast Oklahoma, according to Zimmerman, are highly sought after as they have good oil content and a rich flavor.
“This is my American dream,” Zimmerman said. “I got to it a little late, but I wanted to have the best pecans in Oklahoma. I am about to achieve that and I want to pass it on to my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren Now, it looks like I am going to lose it all.”
Zimmerman is the second property owner to publicly chastise GRDA for attempting to bully property owners.
Earlier this month, Ken Prescott voiced his frustrations with GRDA’s repeated attempts to purchase a portion of his 15-acre parcel of property.
Prescott’s refusal led to a “final offer” by GRDA and a threat of condemnation if the offer was not accepted by March 20.
Zimmerman has until noon Tuesday to accept GRDA’s purchase offer.
“I feel like they are singling me out,” Zimmerman said, noting that he has been vocal about his belief that mismanagement of the Pensacola dam is the biggest contributor to flooding.
Zimmerman wants to see the lake lowered back to 738 mean sea level where it was originally fixed.
Increases over time in the lake level has ruined the river banks, covered Miami’s low-water dam at Riverview Park and increased the level of flooding in and around Miami.
“I told GRDA that I had no interest in selling my land,” Zimmerman said. “But, I also told them that I would let them have an easement … I don’t see why their need for an easement should mean that we can’t continue with pecan production.”
Neither Zimmerman nor Prescott have secured legal counsel at this time.
GRDA started condemnation proceedings against Prescott on Thursday of last week, according to district court records, but the landowner said he has not been notified of the filing.
Prescott said Saturday that he will not relinquish his land without a fight that he will carry through the entire court system.
The Grand River Dam Authority has acknowledged it wants to obtain 2,630 acres north of Miami with plans to use the land for a wildlife preserve.
The GRDA said last year it would buy property in Ottawa County and would use condemnation proceedings if it had to. It was thought the primary reason the authority wanted to buy the land was because of repeated flooding, which many had blamed on the GRDA’s operation of Pensacola Dam, which impounds Grand Lake.
But it now appears the GRDA also wanted to address another issue. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires the authority to manage 1,600 acres of wildlife habitat. The GRDA has done so in the past by lowering the lake’s level after each Labor Day and seeding mud flats with millet.