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AM NewsBrief: Jan. 5, 2023

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This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023.

Opponents of ACCESS turnpike project call for ousting of transportation secretary

Opponents of the ACCESS Oklahoma turnpike project are calling for the ousting of top Oklahoma Turnpike Authority officials.

In an open letter addressed to Governor Kevin Stitt, turnpike opponents call for the removal of state Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz and OTA Deputy Director Joe Echelli.

This comes on the heels of the OTA losing a court battle over Open Meeting Act violations in key meetings that authorized ACCESS projects. The opposition group, PikeOff OTA, writes QUOTE “We urge, hope and pray that you use your power as governor to put the brakes on this and uphold the Open Meeting Act even when it might not fit your plans.”

Gatz said Tuesday he hadn’t yet read it. However...

"Certainly that’s something that’s, you know, not unconcerning to us," said Gatz.

A spokesperson for Stitt’s office defends Gatz’s track record and says the governor has no intention of replacing him or any other OTA officials because of the letter.

EPA updates Waters of the U.S. rule

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers announced a change to the Waters of the United States rule. Some Oklahoma officials have been critical of the revision.

The rule spells out where the federal government can apply Clean Water Act regulations.

In 2015, the EPA put out a rule saying any wetlands or waterways that could feed into a river or lake were under federal jurisdiction. That definition drew criticism for its potential to saddle farm ponds and pastures with regulations meant for drinking water sources.

The Trump administration repealed that rule in 2019 and replaced it with a scaled-back version, which was met with legal challenges.

Now the EPA has made good on the Biden administration’s promise to restore broader protections. The EPA says the change is meant to provide clarity on regulations that have been in flux over the past decade.

But Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur says it actually introduces uncertainty that will “impede the ability of Oklahomans to do their jobs.”

New lake in Tulsa

Plans for a new dam on the Arkansas River in northeast Oklahoma have been announced.

The multimillion-dollar, multiyear project will create a new lake between Tulsa and Jenks. The project will include nature trail enhancements and other outdoor amenities. Once completed, both cities expect that the new lake will attract major investment in real estate and retail opportunities. The low-water dam will create a lake in the Arkansas River that will run from 71st street to 101st.

The plan has been in limbo for quite some time awaiting approval from all interested parties. Last week, the Muscogee Nation agreed to devote approximately $8.2 million, which will help fully fund the project. Voters in Tulsa and Jenks made previous major financial commitments nearly 7 years ago. Officials say the endeavor will take approximately five years to permit, design and construct.

Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners approve funds for new mental health facility

Funding for a new mental health facility to be built alongside the new Oklahoma County jail was approved earlier this week.

The Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners voted to reserve $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funds for the construction of a new mental health facility that would be built next to the new Oklahoma County jail.

Additionally, the commissioners approved nearly $5 million in ARPA funds to pay Accenture, a consulting firm that will help determine if the facility could be open to both detainees of the jail and the general public under ARPA guidelines.

This follows the U.S. Department of Justice opening an investigation into Oklahoma City’s ability to provide mental health services to the community last November.

Earliest recorded tornado

The earliest tornado of the year has been confirmed.

Following severe storms Monday, the National Weather Service in Tulsa confirmed that a high-end EF0 tornado touched down in Pryor, marking the earliest recorded tornado in Oklahoma.

The twister damaged a few outbuildings and had a recorded wind gust of nearly 80 mph.

Authorities say it was on the ground for about 5 miles.


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