MIAMI — Calling it a potential game changer, Miami officials are forging ahead with an attempt to land a portion of as much as $750 million in federal grant money to alleviate the flooding that almost annually swamps the city.
“This definitely could be a game changer for us and that’s what I am banking on: this to be that shot in the arm that Miami has needed for many, many years,” Miami mayor Bless Parker said following a special meeting of the Mayor’s Flood Advisory Board Wednesday, Nov. 18.
“There’s $750 million worth of FEMA grants available for flood-prone areas, so we’re trying to get as much of that money as we can,” said Parker, who has been mayor since July. “Our city manager has gone over it really well. He thinks this grant was kind of designed for us and what we go through as a community.
“We want to take advantage of this opportunity and get as much as we can to turn Miami in a different direction. The direction we’ve been headed with these floods hasn’t been a good one. We’ve never seen any relief.”
The City of Miami has been in a fight with the Grand River Dam Authority for years over the flooding issues caused by the level of Grand Lake as well as Tar Creek.
City properties that are affected by the repeated flooding include the entire Miami Fairgrounds complex, the Joe Booth softball and Miami Little League baseball complexes, Francis Morgan Field, the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County, the Miami Fire Department’s south station, E Street Plaza and the sewage treatment plant.
The east side of the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M campus —Iverson Field, Homa Thomas Field and the football practice field are regularly affected as well are East Steve Owens Blvd., Veterans Blvd., Elm Street, Rockdale Blvd. and East Central Avenue.
“This is an opportunity for us to get a little bit of relief,” Parker said. “Then every year, (we can) keep fighting for more grant money to get completely turned around and get some roads raised, some green spaces put in, get the pool and a lot of infrastructure stuff moved that get shut down every flood.”
The deadline to get in grant requests is Jan. 29.
Members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation now seem to be on board to lend a hand.
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, who has not been popular with Miamians and those in the area especially he had an amendment buried in the National Defense Authorization Act at the last minute providing an exemption to the GRDA from key provisions of the Federal Power Act, reached out to Parker to offer assistance.
Inhofe owns property on Grand Lake.
“In our conversation, he said ‘you know mayor, I know that the people of Miami don’t like me.’ My response was ‘well Senator, if you ever want to change that, now is the time.’ Now is the time he could really help us,” Parker said. “I believe he fully understands that he can actually have his cake and eat it here because he can help us with these federal grants that cost the GRDA nothing, but also keep his relationship with them great.
“He told me he cares about us and I said ‘show me.’”
Parker said he and Inhofe talked for more than 30 minutes on the phone and that he, Senator James Lankford and District 2 Congressman Markwayne Mullin are on board.
“They all say they are all excited because this is the first time they've seen Miami be willing to get this thing with the GRDA settled and move in a positive direction,” Parker said.
Parker said he also has visited with Grand River Dam Authority CEO Dan Sullivan and Sullivan is interested in getting things resolved “because I don’t thinks he wants this to be a part of his legacy before he leaves.”
“This is a battle that has been going on since I was a kid and I’m 50 now. GRDA is throwing money away at this. We’re throwing money away at this. The lawyers are they ones that are winning — our community really hasn’t changed,” Parker said.
He said flooding issues have caused problems with economic development.
“It’s had to bring someone in when they can’t get trucks in or out or you are based on an island every four or five years and businesses are shut down,” he said.