A letter issued by GRDA and submitted comments from residents in areas north of Grand Lake reveal very different perspectives on GRDA's relicense request for the Pensacola Project No. 1494.

MIAMI/GROVE – While the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) issued a letter focused mainly on the recreational uses of Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, responses from residents and business owners of Ottawa County are asking for other priorities to be recognized in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) relicense process.

GRDA sent the letter out on Jan. 19 to a distribution list for the Pensacola Project No. 1494 relicensing process participants by e-mail announcing the beginning of the FERC relicensing process and inviting participation. The distribution list included 240 federal agencies, tribal organizations, congressional delegation, other governmental entities, non-governmental organizations, and citizens.

“Since its original construction in 1940, Grand Lake has been one of the premier lakes in the Midwest and the crown jewel of a chain of lakes in the northeastern Oklahoma region. Grand Lake is consistently ranked among the top lakes for bass fishing in the region and is also a haven for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife. Its 42,500 surface acres of water provide a variety of recreational opportunities and boost the region's economy," GRDA's Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan wrote in the letter. "Businesses rely heavily on the recreational attractions at Grand Lake – which, during the major holidays in summer, is one of the most heavily populated areas of the State of Oklahoma. The Pensacola Dam's turbine generators produce nearly 345,000 megawatt-hours each year of clean, non-emitting, renewable electricity for thousands of homes and businesses – creating jobs and sustaining economic growth.”

In contrast, several Miami and other Ottawa County residents and business owners to the north of Grove and Grand Lake filed written public commentary with FERC regarding experiences with flooding, economic hardship, and other issues believed to be caused or exacerbated by GRDA’s operation of the Pensacola Project No. 1494.

“I have lived on East 116 Road in Miami since May 1974. We never had flooding problems until manual manipulation of the lake levels reached a destructive level in the early '80s. From that time on, heavy rains in the areas have caused stress,” resident Patricia Bridgewater wrote.

Bridgewater's remarks, as did other area resident's comments filed with FERC, included expressed concerns over significant flooding and damages to her property and home, inaccessibility during flooding to health care, grocery stores, work and other necessities, and lower property values.

“It is my understanding that GRDA does NOT have the right to put any water on most of the property in the Miami area,” Bridgewater wrote in part. “I do NOT understand how a federal regulatory agency can allow that to occur.”

Miami business owner and homeowner James Couch, president of Bomford, Couch &Wilson, filed formal comments with FERC saying the three-feet modification of the lake’s operational rule curve allowed by FERC, “Will have devastating repercussions on Miami and Ottawa County.”

“From 1986 through 1993, we suffered through 13 significant floods because the lake levels at Grand Lake were higher than should have been allowed,” Couch wrote in part. “Economic development is time-consuming and expensive without having to explain the flooding that has occurred in this community. As president of our local economic development corporation, I have witnessed the detrimental perception that the past floods have on our efforts to promote Miami and Ottawa County...There is no way the benefit GRDA would receive could possibly outweigh the devastation the citizens of Ottawa County have felt and will continue to endure. Please deny this request by GRDA.”

80-year-old Miami resident, Judy Judkins, filed this comment in part with FERC regarding the 2007 flood’s effects on her property, “The loss was at a total of over $200,000 in dollar amount, but even more relevant was the loss we encountered by losing time, effort and energy that we put into this property to make it our dream home...After 27 years of working to create our ideal retirement home, at the time we were suppose to start enjoying it, the home was taken from us by the choice of GRDA to allow additional water to flow into Miami, Oklahoma...it is a little late now to replace what we lost, but it can be different for others if GRDA is held accountable for their choices and the results of their choices.”

Roger and Tiffani Lacy of Miami filed comments with FERC saying they have lived and done business in Miami since 1994. They said flooding has caused damages and dramatic increases in insurance rates for many properties.

“My property has actually gotten water on it at least 15 times and in the structure 4 times,” according to the Lacys filed comments, “Even when I cleaned up and repaired the property, it still was not worth as much as it otherwise would have been, because now it was known as flood property.”

Environmental concerns were also part of the commentary filed by residents.

“We also have the concern in this area that some of the rainwater is going through the Picher area, which is a Superfund site known to have toxins. While that in and of itself is not caused by GRDA, if the Pensacola Dam and Grand Lake are increasing in elevation and duration of flooding as multiple studies and courts have found, it is increasing the area exposed to those waters, and the exposure is for a longer period of time,” the Lacys wrote in their commentary.”

Paul and Dava Marquez of Miami wrote in their comments to FERC the impact of area flooding forced them to find temporary FEMA shelter, and put them through a lengthy process of recovery, as well as raised their flood insurance from $500 to $2,000 per year.

“Finding a permanent residence took 10 months and we still had to pay off our flooding home,” the Marquezes wrote. “We continue to own the flood property, pay property and pay insurance.”

Brad Williams of Miami said 2007 was the first time his home flooded.

“Four feet of flood water engulfed our home and destroyed everything we had accumulated since my wife and I were married, including our three children's keepsakes they had collected their entire lives. Baseball cards, trophies, award letters, all of it destroyed in an instant, and the water did not recede for days,” Williams wrote in part. “We would hope the ongoing flood issues, the lack of responsible action and loss of real and personal property that they have caused would play toward the decision to permit GRDA in the future.”

Several area tribes have filed and continue to file commentary and formal intervening remarks claiming the relicense has affected tribal lands and historic and cultural resources. One of the most recent filings by the Osage Nation's Preservation Office Archaeologist John Fox wrote asking for protection of the Osage Nation's historic and ancestral cultural resources and for consultation on such matters in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Sullivan's letter on behalf of GRDA's 600 employees said GRDA's Jan.12 issued Notice of Commencement for the Integrated Licensing Process will be followed over the next several years as GRDA prepares its relicensing application in consultation with federal and state regulators, Native American tribes, local government officials and interested members of the public.

The first opportunity for the public to participate is in next week's series of environmental scoping meetings scheduled for Feb. 7 through Feb. 9.

FERC has scheduled four public scoping meetings to receive input for the scope of the Pensacola Project's NEPA document:

Daytime Scoping Meeting - Langley at 9 a.m. on Feb. 7 at the GRDA Ecosystems and Education Center located at 420 E. Highway 28 in Langley. Evening Scoping Meeting – Grove at 6 p.m. on Feb. 7 at Grove City Hall located at 104 W. 3rd Street in Grove. Evening Scoping Meeting – Miami at 6 p.m. on Feb. 8 at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Fine Arts Center Performance Hall located at 200 I Street NE in Miami. Daytime Scoping Meeting – Tulsa at 9 a.m. on Feb. 9 at the GRDA Engineering and Technology Center located at 9933 E. 16th Street in Tulsa.

“We at GRDA sincerely look forward to an engaging and thorough effort in this relicensing process. We appreciate your participation and support. If you have any questions related to FERC’s Notice, Scoping Document 1, or any other relicensing matters, please contact Dr. Darrell Townsend by phone at 918-256-0616 or dtownsend@grda.com,” Sullivan concluded in his letter.

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.