The Tulsa Audubon Society is very concerned about the
impact of The Channels on our Least Terns, Bald Eagles, other
wildlife and river habitats. The plan as presented to the public
was very short on details, leaving the Tulsa Audubon Society
little on which to comment. The consultants to Tulsa
Stakeholders claim they have taken these environmental and other
concerns into account and addressed them, and we planned to make
an assessment when we learned the details. TAS has been serving
on the Arkansas River Advisory Committee for the last several
years, and that committee met with the project consultants to ask questions,
receive answers and learn the details of the plan. On October 31st,
we received answers from The Channels consultants concerning the
environmental issues raised by the group.
Having studied their assessment, our concerns have not been
We are not against river development, and strongly support
the Arkansas River Master Plan that was recently developed. That
plan was developed by the Corps of Engineers and INCOG with
extensive input from the community. They put together the
Arkansas River Master Plan Advisory Committee, and Tulsa Audubon
was involved in that planning. The current Master Plan is very well thought
out and recognizes the intrinsic value that the Arkansas River
already brings to Tulsa. Because of extensive input from the
community, they developed an excellent plan, balancing the
natural features of the river with the development needs of the
community. You can get more information about the master plan at
The Channels is based the premise that Tulsa is an
undesirable place to live, especially for young professionals,
and that this project will provide an attractive public meeting
place near the water. Economic development is not our area of
expertise, but there will be many negative impacts from this
project. Most would result from the conversion of a free-flowing
stream to a shallow 12-mile long lake. These are some of the
aspects of the river that would likely be impacted:
Fish spawning and migration
Use of the riverbank as a corridor by land-based wildlife
Least Terns, an endangered species - (New nesting islands
are planned, but the lake would destroy foraging areas)
Water quality (toxins accumulate more readily in relatively
Bald eagles, a threatened species (especially if wind
turbines on the riverbank are included)
Esthetics – Many feel a flowing stream is more beautiful
than a pond, and it is simply not possible to mitigate the
loss of a twelve-mile stretch of prairie river "in kind" --
it is irreplaceable. Yes, the river is already compromised
and its natural state altered by the Keystone Dam, but it
does retain valuable natural characteristic that would be
lost if this project proceeds.
Other successful water-based recreation areas have indeed
helped to revitalize areas in cities like San Antonio, Oklahoma
City, Vancouver, etc., but these were not produced by destroying
natural areas. Instead they usually were built in undesirable,
industrial areas that were not the home of an endangered
species, the Least Tern.
The responses to the Advisory Committee from the
consultants were sketchy or insufficient. The details will
seemingly be worked out during the design phase of the project,
after a proposed bond election (and after all consultants have
been paid.) Is this really good planning?
For instance, there are plans, and budget, to construct new
islands for the Least Terns. But for the islands to be used by
the terns they must be located near shallow water feeding areas.
But no details about how this will be accomplished have been
developed. The plan is to study this issue and handle it in the
design phase. This leaves TAS nothing to assess at this time
since they have not fully addressed this issue. We don’t know if
it will work, and we don’t know what it will cost.
Unfortunately, doing detailed studies and modeling in the
design phase is their answer to almost all the concerns about
this project. For instance, they plan to spend nine months
creating a detailed groundwater model of the project. That Is
certainly necessary, but the plan we may be asked to vote on is
based on optimistic guesses about what this model will show.
They have even stated they are still “researching flow volume
and cost to validate our order of magnitude costs.” In other
word, they have yet to validate if their cost estimates are even
in the ballpark.
The entire budget of the project is an optimistic guess.
They plan to work out the details in engineering studies and
modeling AFTER the election. These studies could result in
hundreds of millions of dollars of additional expense. The
project may even found to be not physically feasible as
currently envisioned, wasting more tax dollars. Therefore, we
cannot endorse this project since there are far too many
unknowns, assumptions and guesses about specific design elements
Many comprehensive studies from the Corps of Engineers, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and independent engineering,
environmental and biological consultants need to be completed.
These then should be brought back to the Advisory Committee for
review to assess the whole project and its economic and
ecological impact upon Tulsa. Once this is done, this project
may or may not prove to be feasible. At this time it, it is
premature to send this issue to the voters.
Following is an abbreviated
version published as a letter to the editor in the Nov 19,
206 Tulsa World:
The Tulsa Audubon Society is very
concerned about the impact of The Channels on wildlife and river
habitats, especially Least Terns and Bald Eagles. TAS serves on
the Arkansas River Advisory Committee, which has just received
answers to its environmental concerns.
Having just received those answers we cannot endorse this
project. There are too many unknowns, assumptions and guesses
about specific design elements and costs.
For instance, there are plans and budget to construct new
islands for the Least Terns. But the terns will only use them if
located near shallow water feeding areas, and there is no
detailed plan for accomplishing this.
The response is to study and handle it in the design phase, so
we can't assess if it will work or know the cost.
The studies and modeling needed to develop detailed plans and
cost estimates are all scheduled after the design phase, after
the proposed election. The detailed groundwater model will take
nine months, so a February vote on will be based on optimistic
guesses. They have even stated they are still “researching flow
volume and cost to validate our order of magnitude costs.”
The results of these detailed studies could result in hundreds
of millions of dollars in additional expense.
After these studies are completed the plan should be brought
back to the Advisory Committee for review by the experts to
assess the proposed solutions. Once this is done, the project
may or may not prove to be feasible. Only then should an
election be considered.
President, Tulsa Audubon Society