Aerial Flooding

The swollen Arkansas River with the Tulsa skyline on Thursday, May 30, 2019. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already moved up the feasibility study deadline on replacing Tulsa’s aging levee system once, but it needs to go faster still.

From U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe down, Oklahoma’s political leadership is pressuring the Corps to complete an ongoing study on levee replacement this year. The latest public push came in a letter from Gov. Kevin Stitt, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and the mayors of Bixby and Jenks.

If the feasibility study can be completed before Dec. 31, it could be part of President Trump’s next budget. The Corps has already shortened its typical three-year study period for the project to two years. Its current schedule has the work continuing through next September, meaning it wouldn’t be eligible for budgeting until October 2021.

Obviously, time is of the essence. The longer the process lasts, the greater the risk that another flood will wipe out the levees and a swath of metropolitan Tulsa.

A June letter from Inhofe, U.S. Sen. James Lankford and U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern to Corps leaders pointed out that thousands of Oklahomans and more than $2 billion in public and private infrastructure depend on the levees’ protection.

The Corps has rated the 75-year-old levees as “unacceptable” for more than a decade. A new and improved levee will be expensive, but nothing compared to the potential cost of not building one in time.

We hope the Corps is getting the message. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a rising star of the Republican Party with seats on the Appropriations and Finance committees and everyone down to the suburban mayors are saying the same thing: We can’t wait. And they’re right.

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