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Floods forecast again for Muskogee; flash flood warnings issued along Grand River system

Sunday’s flash floods in northeastern Oklahoma became Monday’s and Tuesday’s rising rivers and reservoirs — and more flood warnings for communities from Locust Grove to Muskogee.

Flood warnings from the National Weather Service are in effect through much of Tuesday for areas of the Grand River Basin below Pensacola Dam from Locust Grove to Fort Gibson and Muskogee and downstream on the Arkansas River to Van Buren, Arkansas, due to increased releases at reservoir dams.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation issued an update on roads closed due to flooding and cautioned drivers not to go around barricades.

“The main thing right now is to let people know that are in areas prone to flooding to keep an eye on things because we are definitely above the flood stage now and we might be anticipating water getting back into some homes,” said Muskogee County Commissioner John Doke.

Flash floods covered roads and had first responders scrambling throughout the area Sunday and into early Monday. As that runoff swells rivers and reservoirs, people downstream should be on alert, said Brannen Parrish, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our recommendation is to keep in touch with local emergency managers,” Parrish said. “We’re going to do what we can to balance the channel capacity and the downstream runoff and manage this as safely as possible. If we need to increase releases we will pass word along as soon as possible.”

Doke said the flash floods Sunday were an added hit that area communities did not need.

“We’re still trying to recover from roads damaged from river flooding, and after this weekend we have new roads damaged from flash flooding that weren’t affected before,” he said. “It’s been an interesting summer so far.”

In May, communities in the three rivers area were hit hard as the Arkansas, Verdigris and Grand river systems all ran full. Rivers and reservoirs were just starting to drop to more normal levels when waves of strong storms rolled across northeastern Oklahoma Sunday and pushed two-day rainfall accumulations to 3 to 4.5 inches across Ottawa County and to 5.5 and 6 inches near Tahlequah, according to Oklahoma Mesonet.

“I think there is an enormous amount of fear right now,” Doke said. “The thing is the last flood is fresh on people’s minds. You’ve got to understand that it was just two weeks ago people lost everything. So you’ve just gone through that and you’re trying to get back on your feet and now you have another threat of flooding.”

While floods in May resulted from large rain events across the northern tier of the state and Kansas, this weekend’s storms focused on already rain-soaked areas of eastern Kansas and Oklahoma, especially tributaries of Grand River with its three major reservoirs at Grand Lake, Hudson Lake and Fort Gibson, all of which were already well into their flood pool storage capacity.

Releases from Fort Gibson Dam early Monday almost tripled in volume from 51,000 cubic feet per second at midnight to 140,444 cfs by 4 p.m.

James Paul, hydrologist at the National Weather Service River Forecast Center in Tulsa, said the Fort Gibson increase meant the Arkansas River likely would rise to 32.5 to 33 feet, just above the “moderate flooding” level.

“What’s happening now is it’s starting to exit its banks again in some places and we’ll be getting some inundation in areas prone to flooding,” Doke said. “It feels a little bit like déjà vu. In May we were at flood stage, and the river came up and they expected it to be at about 32, and then it was 34, and before we realized it, we were at 38 feet and then 46. I’m not anticipating that, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the mid 30s again.”

The uncertainty from upstream and from the weather is the greatest worry, he said.

“A little reassurance would go a long way right now,” he said.

The National Weather Service forecast for the area calls for scattered thunderstorms through Tuesday and for “low chances” of showers and thunderstorms mornings and evenings for most of the week and into the weekend.

The Fort Gibson, Muskogee and Webbers Falls area was hit hard when the Arkansas River rose to its second- and third-highest crests since 1943 on May 26 and 30, at levels just over 46 feet.

The river dropped into “minor” flood stage, near 28 feet, for a few days, but Sunday into Monday the river rose 4.3 feet in 24 hours.

Releases from the dams are important, but runoff from the storms is a huge issue, Paul said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dropped release rates from Eufaula, Oologah and Keystone reservoirs dramatically overnight, from about 35,000 cfs to 6,000 cfs at Keystone, for example, but runoff is filling the gaps, he said.

“They are modifying releases to keep from exacerbating the flooding to the extent possible,” he said. “There was a lot of intermediate rainfall between Keystone and Oologah so even if those are slowed down there is a lot of runoff.”

Grand Lake hit a near record level near the top of its available flood pool at 755.07 feet Monday. The previous record was 755.17. Hudson Lake hit a record high at 636.27 feet at 1 p.m. Monday and was into “surcharge pool” at 101% of its flood pool.

Fort Gibson was about 5 inches below the top of its flood pool Monday, but it was rising with upstream flows increasing.

Flow coming into the lake rose from around 100,000 cfs early Monday to 143,000 cfs by 4 p.m. However, releases from Hudson, just about 18 river miles upstream, increased from 90,000 cfs to 151,000 cfs by midday, necessitating the increase at Gibson.

“The good news right now is Grand Lake is dropping, slightly, and Hudson is remaining steady,” Parrish said. “We can’t let them go any higher.”

Hudson joins a list of reservoirs that have set new record high levels in the past month across Oklahoma and Kansas, Parrish said. Record setters include Eldorado, Cheney, Toronto, Fall River and Elk City lakes in Kansas and Kaw, Keystone, Altus, Oolgah, Skiatook, Birch and Hudson lakes in Oklahoma.


News
AP
Trump signs order imposing sanctions on Iran supreme leader

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday targeting Iran’s supreme leader and his associates with financial sanctions, the latest action the U.S. has taken to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and supporting militant groups.

The sanctions follow Iran’s downing of a more than $100 million U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Trump pulled back from the brink of retaliatory military strikes on Iran last week but is continuing his pressure campaign against the nation.

“These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

“We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, increased enrichment of uranium, development of ballistic missiles, engagement and support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts and belligerent acts directed against the United States and its allies.”

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear pact that world powers made with Tehran in 2015. Other nations stayed in the deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. Trump called it a one-sided deal in Iran’s favor and reimposed sanctions but says he wants to negotiate a different deal. Iran, which calls the sanctions “economic terrorism,” has shown no interest in negotiating.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said U.S.-Iran talks are impossible under current conditions, adding, “You cannot start a dialogue with someone who is threatening, who is intimidating you.”

Ravanchi, who spoke with reporters while the U.N. Security Council held closed consultations on the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, said Washington should stop its military activity in the region, withdraw its naval forces and end what he called “economic warfare” against the Iranian people.

The latest round of sanctions denies Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and senior military figures access to financial resources and blocks their access to any financial assets they have under U.S. jurisdiction.

“For people who say these are just symbolic, that’s not the case at all,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “We’ve literally locked up tens and tens of billions of dollars.”

Trump said the new sanctions are not only in response to the downing of the drone. The U.S. has blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers this month near the Strait of Hormuz. Citing those episodes and intelligence about other Iranian threats, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there.

All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.

“The supreme leader of Iran is the one who is ultimately responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime,” Trump said. “He is respected within his country. He also oversees the regime’s most brutal instrument including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.”

Iran’s naval commander has warned that Iranian forces would not hesitate to act again and shoot down more U.S. surveillance drones that violate Iranian airspace. The U.S. said the drone was flying over international waters.

“We confidently say that the crushing response can always be repeated, and the enemy knows it,” Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi Khanzadi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

The sanctions came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is holding talks in the Middle East with officials in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about countering the military threat from Iran by building a broad, global coalition that includes Asian and European countries. Pompeo is likely to face a tough sell in Europe and Asia, particularly from those nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Germany, France and Britain, as well as Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear accord that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for set limits on its uranium enrichment levels. The three European countries have sent envoys to Tehran recently, signaling they remain committed to diplomacy and dialogue. They cautioned against moves that can lead to conflict between the U.S. and Iran.


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Government-and-politics
'One person isn't the agency': New DHS chief says he was built for service, is ready to build a team

OKLAHOMA CITY — Justin Brown was initially a reluctant government servant.

But eight or nine days after he met with Gov. Kevin Stitt, he knew running the Department of Human Services was the right spot for him.

“I knew within a couple of days it was absolutely the next step for me,” he said.

Brown, 40, grew up in Oklahoma City. He graduated from Bishop McGuinness High School in 1997 and earned a degree in finance from Oklahoma State University in 2001.

Shortly after Stitt announced Brown to replace Ed Lake, who held the post for seven years, some questioned Brown’s qualifications and lack of experience in government and human services.

“I think I have been built for the service side of it,” he said. “The second one is this agency is large enough, so large and has so many different places of impact, that one person isn’t the agency. We are building an incredible team.”

The Department of Human Services in recent years has been one of the more controversial state agencies.

“For every negative view of the DHS, there have been 100 positive things we could have shared,” Brown said.

And he plans on sharing.

The agency has 6,000 employees and a budget of $2.4 billion. It is responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect, overseeing services to the poor and disabled, and adult protective services, among a myriad of other duties.

“We have a group of people here at the agency already who are really good at what they do,” Brown said. “I think the agency itself has sort of gotten in the way of that. The culture we need to build is one of bringing people together, building relationships and collaboration.”

He said most of the agency’s employees don’t come to work for the money but because they have a passion and love the people the agency serves.

“The level of passion and commitment from the people that actually work for DHS is second to none,” he said.

Brown was vice president of health care banking for Bank of Oklahoma from 2001 to 2008. Then, he became CEO of Choice Capital Partners, which owns and operates seven assisted-living and memory-care centers in three states.

He has been a member of several organizations, including YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, Alzheimer’s Association of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Zoological Society, Leadership Oklahoma City, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma City and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Brown currently serves on the Children’s Hospital Foundation and has served on nonprofits that had the same customers as DHS.

He remembers a Christmas party in 2015 at a public housing project, where the children were stuffing food into their pockets.

“That hit me directly,” he said, and it led to a program to provide after-school meals.

Some of the children were asking about getting a bed, Brown said.

He said there is nothing like setting up a bed in a housing complex and noticing where a little girl has built a nest out of clothes on the floor as a place to sleep.


Local
Update: State will email free registration certificates after law change that also keeps plates with the driver

Update (July 3): The Oklahoma Tax Commission is offering free copies of registration certificates via email. Go to okcars.tax.ok.gov. The PDFs provided digitally may be printed and kept with the driver or vehicle.

Many Tulsa World readers commented about visiting tag agencies that were charging as much as $5-$6 more than the listed $1 reprint fee after the news about the law change last week.

Two days after the law went into effect, the Oklahoma Tax Commission issued a news release about the discontinued reprint fee. 


A law change affecting vehicle registration and tagging in Oklahoma means up-to-date certificates of registration must be carried at all times.

The law, passed in 2018 and effective July 1, also changes the process so that car tags remain assigned to car owners even after the vehicle is sold.

Vehicle registration certificates come in the mail along with the sticker for your license plate each time you renew your car tags. Drivers may have become accustomed to disposing of the certificate after removing the sticker stapled to the corner.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Stephen Florea, over the Gilcrease Traffic Division, said the law change does not include a penalty, so there would be no citation for drivers who do not keep the registration certificate with the vehicle.

Florea said officers on a traffic stop can check tags against an electronic database, and if the registration doesn’t match the vehicle, a driver may be cited for improper tag display, about a $135 ticket. Those tickets generally are dismissed if the person goes to court with proof of registration within 10 days, Florea said.

“We’re probably going to give a lot of leeway at first during the transition for this law,” Florea said, adding that officers typically offer drivers somewhat of a grace period on law changes, “especially for something as confusing as this.”

Paula Ross, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, said the new law was modeled on the 42 other states that require the registration and car tags to stay with the owner. She said drivers need to carry that extra piece of paper but do not need to worry about carrying around the vehicle title certificate.

Ross said the law change will prevent turnpike tickets and other traffic citations going to people who are no longer registered to the vehicle, and the paperwork requirement is just part of that law.

Florea and Ross noted that only people trying to skirt the law should be inconvenienced by the paperwork requirement.

If you don’t know where your certificate of registration is, follow these steps to order one from the state Tax Commission. The duplicate certificate has a reprint fee of $1, plus processing charges for those who pay online.

What you’ll need: the last four digits of your vehicle identification number (VIN), the street address number of the registration and the license plate number.

Go to okcars.tax.ok.gov and look for a link that says “duplicate registration order” in the “Other” menu. Follow the steps online to get a printable PDF version of the certificate by email.

Those who have no online access must visit a local tag agency to request a duplicate registration certificate for a $1 fee.

Drivers with custom tags or tribal tags were already required to carry a vehicle registration certificate, as well as those driving commercial vehicles.

Those with Cherokee Nation tribal tags can request a duplicate registration certificate for $1 at any Cherokee Nation tag office. What you’ll need: a driver’s license and vehicle tag number or VIN. Go to cherokee.org to look up locations.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation also issues tribal vehicle tags and offers replacement registrations for $5 at the Tax Commission and Tag Office, 1523 S. Wood Drive in Okmulgee. Call 918-756-6374 for more information.


Featured video

Tulsa City Councilors offered a forum recently on the Equality Indicators report, which uses 54 equality measures that compare outcomes of groups likely to experience inequalities.

Read the story: 'We have to realize we're one city': Discussion on Equality Indicators offers chance at dialogue