Water in the river: The true cost

By Kevin Canfield

The Frontier

How much will it actually cost to build and maintain four low-water dams in the Arkansas River?

This question will be answered when figures are presented Thursday to the Tulsa City Council’s Arkansas River Infrastructure Task Force. Those numbers will cover the cost of new dams in Sand Springs, south Tulsa/Jenks and Bixby, as well as a major overhaul of Zink Dam in Tulsa.

“Unlike the estimates we had before, these estimates have the seal of approval from every city engineer from the cities involved,” said Task Force Chairman G.T. Bynum. “So the experts have looked at these numbers and have confidence in their accuracy.”

Last year, the task force stated that the dams would cost $185.9 million, only to learn that the actual cost would likely be $80.4 million more, or $266.3 million.

That included $106.7 million for the Sand Springs dam; $46.4 million for Zink Dam; $78.7 million for the south Tulsa/Jenks dam; and $34.5 million for the Bixby dam.

The problem with the original cost estimate, Bynum said at the time, was that it was based on incomplete design plans and did not take into account related work that would also need to be done.

To ensure that the task force would be working with accurate cost estimates going forward, Bynum asked city engineers from the affected communities to work with the design firm CH2M HILL to come up with cost estimates based on thorough design plans.

The figures presented Thursday also will include amenities such as parks that individual communities might consider funding on their own, but that would not be part of the dam funding package.

“In case the cities along the river want to utilize their own funds for different park facilities, they could do so,” Bynum said.

Once the task force has received the cost estimates, it will spend the month of May refining them into a package that can be presented to the public at town hall meetings in June, Bynum said.

The public input will be incorporated into the task force’s final proposal, which is expected to be completed in July.

The task force has yet to determine which dams will be constructed, the timeline for their construction and the details of the funding package.

The task force has agreed to fund the dams using a portion of the expiring 0.60 percent Vision 2025 sales tax. Under the plan being considered, only the communities constructing or repairing dams would be asked to pay for them.

Bynum said no date has been set for that election.

“People have been trying to do this for half a century and failed,” Bynum said. “So I think everyone on the task force is really cognizant that we really need to do each step the right way and let it evolve as it does.”

The task force on Thursday is also expected to discuss the creation of an authority to oversee the operation of the dams.