Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Cause for OKC's Sardis Reservoir Delay Disputed

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Cause for OKC's Sardis Reservoir Delay Disputed

Article excerpt

Even though the city of Oklahoma City paid more than $27 million for the water storage rights to the Sardis Reservoir in Oklahoma City, city officials haven't pushed for approval of a water rights permit at the reservoir because they fear a federal lawsuit, the governor of the Chickasaw Nation said last week.

In an Executive Session interview with The Journal Record - set to be published in early May - Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the "gentlemen's agreement" to delay action on the permit between the city of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board was caused by the threat of a federal lawsuit from two of the state's largest Native American tribes.

"If the city of Oklahoma City is issued a water permit, it triggers legal action," Anoatubby said. "In our opinion, we have no choice. We have tried everything to avoid that and we do not want that. But we have legal advice that we will consider and we will choose what needs to be done."

Anoatubby said the lawsuit would be a joint effort from the Choctaw and the Chickasaw tribes. Both tribes have been vocal in their opposition to the sale of Sardis' water storage rights. He said the delay also was designed to give Oklahoma City and the OWRB a chance to renegotiate the deal with tribal leaders.

"There is a gentlemen's agreement that they will hold off, to see if an agreement can be struck between the state and the tribes," Anoatubby said. "That's true, it's all true."

Oklahoma City officials, however, denied that the agreement had anything to do with the threat of a lawsuit. In an email to The Journal Record, Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust Director Marsha Slaughter answered simply "no" when asked if the delay was in response to a possible lawsuit threat.

Instead, Slaughter wrote, the city was looking for the right time to move on its permit request. Slaughter also denied that the delay was to allow time for new negotiations between tribes, the city and state officials.

"Cities may not make compacts nor treaties with other states or nations," she said.

The likelihood of a tribal lawsuit is the latest twist in the decades-long story that has become Sardis Lake. Following a federal lawsuit over the lake's construction costs, former Gov. Brad Henry, in the final months of his administration, began an intense push for an agreement designed to generate the revenue needed to pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the reservoir.

That agreement - negotiated by former Democratic state Treasurer Scott Meacham - resulted in a deal between the city of Oklahoma City and the OWRB to purchase Sardis' water storage rights for $27 million.

But following the contract's approval in June of 2010, Oklahoma City officials ran into several other problems that sidelined their attempts to take possession of the lake. …

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