Stimulus Project Scrapped; Questions Remain Why It Was Ever Approved
By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact
HARDESTY, Oklahoma -- There's controversy surrounding a guardrail project that landed on a list to receive $1.2 million in stimulus funds.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to use the money to replace guardrails on a federal road across the Optima Lake Dam in the Oklahoma panhandle.
"My personal opinion is they're wasting a lot of money, it's not going to the right places," said Ted Keeling, the Texas County Commissioner District One.
And, he's not the only one criticizing the project.
There are several reasons why city and county leaders, even U.S. Senators, call the new guardrails wasteful. First of all, the road's not used that frequently. County officials estimate 15 people drive their cars on the road everyday.
Secondly, the lake is not really a lake at all. The federal government spent $46 million constructing the Optima Lake Dam about 30 years ago, but the lake never filled up with water.
Ross Adkins, a Corps spokesman, said they picked Optima Lake to receive new guardrails for safety reasons and because they could be built quickly.
"Somebody could, with slight inattention to what they're doing, drive off the side with disastrous results. We don't want that to happen," Adkins said.
But, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn doesn't believe new guardrails are necessary. When he and Sen. Jim Inhofe heard about the guardrails, they sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They expressed "serious concern regarding funding decisions" in Oklahoma.
The Corps' Tulsa District office was in the process of evaluating its list of projects when the letter arrived. They decided to pull the plug and not spend the money on guardrails. Instead, the Corps will dish out $1,000 to close the road.
We've also learned, the Corps plans to spend $200,000 in supplemental stimulus funding to demolish restrooms and camp sites at Optima Lake. Senator Coburn said he does not want another penny spent on the project.