Conservation leader disappointed with ruling disapproving bond issue
"Extremely disappointing." That is how Trey Lam, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts described the ruling Feb. 26 by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that voided the $25 million bond issue passed last legislative session to repair damage to conservation infrastructure throughout the state of Oklahoma, including several severely damaged flood control structures.
"It is amazing that the court would take this action," Lam said. "This ruling puts the lives and property of Oklahomans at risk."
In 2007, record flooding resulted in damage to flood control structures throughout the state, including two dams in Caddo County that suffered near breaches. In addition, millions of dollars of damage was done to additional conservation infrastructure state-wide. According to Lam, the bond issue voided by the court was passed last session to start the process of repairing this damage.
"In the closing days of the 2008 legislative session, the House, Senate and the Governor came together in a bi-partisan manner to do the right thing and pass this bond issue to help repair this catastrophic damage," Lam said. "Now we are back to square one. Federal dollars have been committed to this repair effort and we were depending on these bond funds to provide the state match. Without this match from the state, we may very well run the risk of losing some, if not all of those federal funds."
Lam said that with the passage of the bond issue, Oklahoma was able to begin the process of matching local and federal funds with the state funds that would be generated by the bond sale. Initial estimates showed that the initial state investment of $25 million would become roughly $126 million. If this bond issue is not now reauthorized by the legislature, these matching funds may begin to disappear.
"With recent statements by the administration indicating that they want to start the process of bringing our federal budget back into balance, we are concerned that any unencumbered federal matching funds may be pulled back to Washington to help square Uncle Sam's books," Lam said. "The initial indication is that even the funds set aside to repair flood control dams in the recently passed stimulus plan will require state matching funds. We have to have this bond issue if we are going to be able to fix these dams. All we can hope is that the Senate, House and Governor will reauthorize the conservation bond."
Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts agreed with Lams assessment of the problems created by the recent court action.
"We hope the legislature and the Governor will take action to reauthorize this bond and let us get to the work of repairing the damage caused by the storms of 2007," Pope said. "It's almost storm season in Oklahoma and if we have heavy rainfall in the areas previously damaged by the floods of 2007 the results could be tragic. The bottom line is that this ruling by the court has put the lives and property of Oklahomans at risk. We can only hope that the Legislature and the Governor will once again act in the interest of the public safety of our citizens and reauthorize this bond issue."