Studies, Permits Would Delay The Channels

Even if voters approved the proposed The Channels project, it could be June 2009 before any cranes are lifted above the Arkansas River.
Jerry Lasker, director of the Indian Nations Council of Governments, said the permitting process would take two years to 30 months before any construction would be allowed.
“Any time you have any change to the river, you have to get a permit.” Lasker said. “It has to be determined that you are not going to adversely–—affect the flooding conditions of the river.”
The proposed $788 million project would create a 12-mile lake, riverbank improvements, bridges—and three islands. Backers of the proposed Arkansas River development package, Tulsa Stakeholders Inc., believe their vision for a set of grand isles, with high-rise buildings, parks, shopping and plenty of park space, will jump start a city they say remains stuck in mediocrity.
TSI promises to raise $100 million from the private sector while the vast majority of the cash — $600 million — would come in the form of taxes. The man-made islands would sit in the Arkansas River between the 11th and 23rd Street bridges.
Since The Channels is looking to change the river by widening and inundating part of the west bank, the flood plain changes.
Earlier this month TSI announced that the purchase of Westport Apartments and Mid-Continent Concrete would be necessary should The Channels be approved.
The two properties, costing $28 million and $37 million, respectively, would be purchased by a public trust formed to oversee the development.
According to engineers working on the project, removing part of the west bank is necessary to accommodate the proposed islands, while the remaining land will be transformed into world-class festival space. The property would not be altered for approximately two years after a public vote due to the time required for permitting the project.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the final say whether the project is accepted or not, Lasker said. “It has to be on their schedule. The Corps will not start to do anything until they have these studies done.”
One of the early requirements would be an environmental impact study, or EIS.
“It looks at what the project does, what the impact would be on the habitat, anything downstream, flooding,” he said.
As part of the EIS, workers would begin a detailed, four-season study. It includes counting the wildlife — everything from numbering beavers to least terns, fish and snakes.
“It is a detailed study. As part of the Arkansas River plan that INCOG did, we have the first two phases. Now the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers and the county are performing the baseline environmental look at the river.”
What concerns Lasker is the aggressive timetable The Channel backers are taking.
“Some think it is a little bit too aggressive, knowing how long these studies take,” he said. “If they run into problems they have to figure out how to mitigate these problems.”
Two low-water dams were planned as part of Vision 2025. The estimated cost of the dams was $10 million. But two monstrous hurricanes struck the Gulf Coast a year ago, wiping out the federal funds allocated to creating the dams.
“The Channels, as proposed, might eliminate the need for a low-water dam at Sand Springs,” Lasker said.
The proposed river height would be as high as the Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks. If the river surface is not high enough, the lake might not make it back to Sand Springs.
Working groups are examining the proposal and will report to the advisory committee, Lasker said. “One of the things they will recommend is whether any additional study will be required. Or, whether the studies will be necessary before a vote is taken.”
Once the permitting process is complete, there remains the potential of lawsuits. The project could attract negative attention from environmentalists, but it is too early to tell, Lasker said. “It may impact some property. I do not know what the potential is other than there is always a potential for lawsuits.”
Zoning should not be a problem, however, he said.
“Now, it is zoned agriculture. It would have to rezoned to commercial or residential,” he said. “All that could be done at the same time. There might be a new classification developed.”
INCOG has asked that all the details be released, Lasker said. “And, they are finally getting to that point. They hired a great number of consultants and have done a lot of work already, but this is a major project and really needs public scrutiny.” ?

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