State conservation leaders discuss stimulus funding for infrastructure
Oklahoma conservation leaders are anticipating the state will receive significant funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to address critical conservation infrastructure needs. Funds have been set aside to rehabilitate flood control dams in Oklahoma according to information released at a press conference held by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Funding for these rehabilitation projects in Oklahoma will range between $10 and $15 million. OACD President Trey Lam said this investment in conservation has been well received in Oklahoma.
"We are excited that these funds have come to our state," Lam Said. "Clearly the need is there and these dollars will definitely help address critical needs in the countryside."
The dollars to be received by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oklahoma is part of the $50 million in stimulus funding being distributed nationally for rehabilitation of upstream flood control structures with the goal of creating new jobs and repairing critical infrastructure.
"Oklahoma has 2105 upstream flood control structures, more than any other state," Lam said. "We are pleased that the President and the Congress have appropriated this stimulus money to rehabilitate some of these structures. As our flood control infrastructure ages, we literally are in a race against time when it comes to our ability to continue protecting people and property from flooding. These funds will be put to good use."
In Oklahoma, stimulus funds will be used to rehabilitate flood control structures with dollars going to the projects where the greatest risk of structure failure and threat to life and property exist. It is anticipated that additional local jobs will be created by this rehabilitation work. In addition, dollars will be spent with local businesses for supplies and services associated with the projects. Rehabilitation funds for the flood control structures will also require state and local match.
According to Mike Thralls, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the match required from the State of Oklahoma for these funds would have been covered by the $25 million Conservation Bond passed by the 2008 Legislature. Part of this bond was earmarked for match on upstream flood control rehabilitation. These funds would currently be available if not for a February 2009 Supreme Court ruling voiding the bond issue because it was in a bill with two unrelated bond projects.
"Now more than ever we see the need for the $25 million passed by the Oklahoma Legislature and signed by the Governor in 2008," Thralls said. "Reauthorization of the Conservation Bond would insure we have the resources necessary to capture these federal funds as well as do additional repair to damaged conservation infrastructure caused by the floods of 2007. It would be a shame if Oklahoma had to turn back these federal funds for critical infrastructure repair."
Clay Pope, OACD Executive Director agreed.
"The State of Oklahoma has been a national leader in flood control dam rehabilitation," Pope said. "Now the folks in Washington D.C. have recognized the critical need we have when it comes to protecting the lives and property of our citizens. We are extremely grateful to the Obama Administration and to the Congress for ensuring that these funds are available to the states We are confident that the Oklahoma Legislature and the Governor will once again answer the call and reauthorize the Conservation Bond so that we can match these dollars, hire some folks in rural Oklahoma and get started addressing the damage caused by the storms of 2007."