By an 8-6 vote, the Muscogee National Council approved an agreement on Wednesday that essentially saves the south Tulsa-Jenks low-water dam and pedestrian bridge project.
Wednesday’s resolution authorizes Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill to execute a memorandum of understanding with the cities of Jenks and Tulsa and the Indian Nations Council of Governments, thus ending nearly six years of uncertainty over the project.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who attended the emergency Muscogee National Council meeting remotely, said afterward that an unfavorable vote on the measure would have effectively ended the project.
“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is always willing to sit down and work with our partners in the cities of Tulsa and Jenks to advance development, growth and prosperity in our reservation,” Hill said in a written statement after Wednesday’s vote. “This agreement is a win-win for all parties and an example of the things we can achieve when we work together.
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“I want to thank our National Council for its diligence in working toward a plan that takes care of the nation, while joining in the shared vision for the future with our partners,” Hill said.
“It’s going to be a win not just for the Tulsa metro, but the benefit for the Muscogee Nation long-term is going to be historic,” Bynum said.
The agreement is contingent upon Tulsa and the Muscogee Nation reaching a development agreement involving a tax increment financing district, or TIF, that includes several acres of land on the east side of the Arkansas River that is owned by the MCN. The Muscogee Nation will put up $8.2 million for the dam project in exchange for an equal amount of infrastructure improvements to its land, a former trailer park, financed through the TIF.
“The (Muscogee) Nation’s commitment to this funding is entirely contingent upon the execution of the development agreement, which is completely at the discretion of the Nation,” Bynum said during the council meeting as he tried to allay members’ reservations. “If we get down the road and the Nation doesn’t feel the development agreement is in its best interest, … then there is no funding requirement.”
National Council opposition to the agreement seemed to rest on skepticism that the city of Tulsa will follow through as agreed.
The Jenks project was one of two low-water dams funded as part of the 2016 Vision Tulsa capital improvements package. Tulsa voters approved $127.2 million for the two dams, including no more than $64.2 million for the south Tulsa-Jenks low-water dam. However, construction of that dam has always been contingent on the city of Jenks, the Muscogee Nation and/or other entities contributing a minimum of $32.9 million.
The city of Jenks is contributing $18.7 million, $16.7 million of which was approved by voters in 2016 as part of that city’s Vision package.
The $8.2 million allocation approved by Muscogee National Council representatives on Wednesday, combined with $6 million in federal funding, gives the city of Tulsa the money it needs to move forward with the project.
Officials plan to dedicate approximately $18 million of the $32.9 million to a long-term operating and funding endowment for both low-water dams.
Initially, Tulsa had given its funding partners until the end of 2016 to provide their share of the funding. That deadline was extended twice: to Dec. 31, 2020, and then to this Dec. 31.
Local officials have been planning for the construction of a series of low-water dams along the Arkansas River since the publication of the Arkansas River Corridor Plan in the early 2000s.
The overhaul of Zink Dam was the first low-water dam funded through Vision Tulsa. That project, along with the new Williams Crossing pedestrian bridge, is expected to be completed late next summer.
Officials say the south Tulsa-Jenks project will take approximately five years to permit, design and construct. It is expected to be built across the Arkansas River at approximately 103rd Street and Riverside Drive.
“This is an historic day, as it symbolizes a commitment — hopefully one of many — among four governmental entities that share a common asset and interest,” said Tulsa City Councilor Phil Lakin, who also attended Wednesday’s council meeting remotely.
Lakin said Tulsa’s city councilors met with the Muscogee National Council several months ago to learn more about the members and how the council operates.
“The chief, council and other Muscogee Nation leaders have been highly collaborative in creating this mutually beneficial agreement,” Lakin said.
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