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Repairs to flood-damaged River Parks trails could cost millions

River Parks Executive Director Matt Meyer is always careful with his words, so on Monday he was reluctant to say how much it would cost to repair the trail system that was puckered and bruised by recent storms and flooding along the Arkansas River.

Then he got to crunching a few numbers in his head and figured it might end up costing $1 million to $2 million.

“We might need a couple million dollars that we don’t have,” Meyer said.

But he stressed that River Parks’ assessment of the damage is not complete.

“We don’t even have the west bank (assessment) yet,” he said. “But I am sure we can spend a couple of million.”

The River Parks trail system runs from 11th to 101st streets alongside Riverside Drive on the east side of the Arkansas River and from 11th to 71st streets on the west side.

The Creek Nation owns and maintains about a mile stretch of the trail system near the River Spirit Casino Resort at approximately 81st Street and Riverside Drive.

During a tour of the trail system Monday morning, Meyer pointed out several sections of the river’s east bank that were eroded last week by the floodwaters that overlapped the concrete trail system in several areas.

The first significant washout — and one of the largest — occurred at approximately 58th Street and Riverside Drive, where a light stanchion was swept away.

The release flow out of Keystone Dam at that point was a relatively calm 150,000 cubic feet per second, Meyer said.

“This is a prime example of where we see that cable-concrete (bank reinforcement) could protect the trail, because this is obviously a problem area,” Meyer said.

Reinforcing such areas likely will be the biggest expense River Parks will face, Meyer said.

“When you get to riverbank stabilization, for a city project we did, it’s $1,000 a linear foot to do that concrete-cable stuff. The 500 feet we did about two years ago was about $500,000.”

Meyer said he’s not sure how all of the needed repairs will be funded, but he knows this much: River Parks doesn’t have enough money in its budget to pay for it all. The River Parks Authority’s annual budget is approximately $1.8 million, most of which goes for routine maintenance and to pay the nonprofit’s 12 full-time employees.

Meyer estimated that the authority’s reserve sits at approximately $450,000.

“We are going to work on it as quickly as we have the resources to make it happen,” he said.

Meyer said the trail on the east bank of the river has been reopened but that the lights continue to be turned off “because the junction boxes and even the faces of the poles where those connect were underwater, so you can’t just flip them back on until we have electricians check them.”

River Parks officials are encouraging the public to stay off the west bank trails until the assessment on that side of the river is completed later this week.

On the east side of Riverside Drive, at the Gathering Place, the flooding had a minor effect, covering two of the park’s five sports courts south of 31st Street.

The park was temporarily closed last week but reopened Sunday.

“We really operated most of the time, but once we got to the point the city had to close Riverside Drive and River Parks Authority had to close the trail, then we certainly complied because we didn’t want to be the one attracting folks to the river’s edge,” said Tony Moore, executive park director.

Moore said it will be a few more days before all of the Gathering Place’s sports courts are reopened.

Eric Meeker, a regular River Parks user, walked the trail Monday morning to check out the damage.

“I drive this road every day, and I was watching it,” he said. “And it was really scary to see the erosion as the river receded.”


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As residents watch receding water, officials hopeful recent flooding could fast-track levee overhaul

The backyard view from the house Lee Owens bought last fall in the 5300 block of West 12th Street is the north-facing, grassy embankment of a levee along the Arkansas River.

Early last week, water rose so high behind his house “we could get out there with a line and pretend we were fishing.”

By Monday, Owens estimated water in that spot — on about five acres managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — was down from about 12 feet at its peak last week to about 7 feet.

“I don’t know why they don’t just make a retention pond there,” he said. “The biggest blessing was they brought in 12 big pumps like the ones they used in New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina. Two of them are right behind my house. If they had not been here, we definitely would have flooded.”

Owens had to evacuate, spending five nights at his sister’s house in Broken Arrow before returning home on Saturday. He thought all was well until he mowed his lawn on Sunday.

“I was mowing the backyard, and I suddenly sunk down seven or eight inches in a mole hole that had sunk in,” he said. “It scared me because of the sinkhole they showed on the TV news the other day. I told my aunt who lives here, too, we gotta really think about this (remaining in the house) because we don’t want to go through this every time it floods.”

County Commissioner Karen Keith said Monday that she did not know if the recent flooding would spark the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track the county’s request for a major overhaul of the levee system.

The Corps is already fast-tracking a feasibility study that must be completed before major improvements can be done.

It is expected to be finished next year.

“It is my hope that it will be fast-tracked,” Keith said. “I don’t know — it is going to take a lot of pressure from the top to make that happen.”

District 12 Levee Director Todd Kilpatrick said the federal government will cover the cost of repairing any damage caused to the levees by the recent flooding.

The levee district is working with the Corps to assess the damage, Kilpatrick said, but no timeline has been established for when the work will be done.

The major problem that arose in the levee system during the recent flooding was river water seeping under and through levees A and B to the land side of the levees, potentially destabilizing them, Kilpatrick said.

“We have got to contain that seepage,” he said.

And those repairs must be done before the area is hit with more significant rainfall, Keith said.

“I think the flood of ’86 was in October, so we can’t wait,” Keith said.

Owens said the lack of infrastructure improvements in the area since historic flooding hit in the mid-1980s makes him and fellow residents feel overlooked by and even suspicious of the powers that be. He has lived his whole life in this part of west Tulsa nestled between downtown and Sand Springs.

“No one down here has a lot of money, but people pay $800 a month rent, so the owners pay taxes on all of this property,” he said. “All they’d need to do to make this whole area attractive to higher income people who want to be close to downtown is make infrastructure improvements and they could make this the Taj Mahal.”

Flooding has cost ODOT $2 million so far and figure is expected to rise, transportation secretary says

OKLAHOMA CITY — Weather-related damage has cost the Oklahoma Department of Transportation an estimated $2 million so far, Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz said Monday.

The figure covers emergency-related responses, such as crews managing road closures or materials to manage highway conditions, he said.

But that figure is expected to grow as floodwaters recede and reveal the extent of damage to state highways and bridges, said Gatz, who also serves as director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Some of the shoulders on some highways have been washed away, he said.

“Right now, we don’t know what we don’t know,” he said.

The state saw 150 roadway closures, Gatz told the Transportation Commission at its monthly meeting.

At one time, 65 locations on the highway system were closed at the same time due to weather, Gatz said.

Many of the roads that had to be closed were not minor highways, he said.

He said the flood caused extreme debris drifts that piled up on bridge structures. Those can take a long time to clear, he said.

“To watch the levels in the Arkansas River, where they were at on the levee system, was really, really concerning,” he said. “Again, I have never seen the Arkansas River out of its banks like it was and that high on the levees before. And I have worked for the Department of Transportation for almost 30 years.”

Gatz said it was important to get out and do inspections to ensure the highway system is operating up to expectations and that the agency responds to any location with an issue.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority did not experience any damage, said Jack Damrill, an agency spokesman.