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Council takes no action regarding easement to NOPFA at asphalt plant

The Tahlequah City Council, during a March 4 meeting, tabled action regarding an easement over city-owned property for the transportation of natural gas after several attendees voiced their concerns.

City Administrator Taylor Tannehill said the agenda item was about the easement and not about the usage of the property. The Northeast Oklahoma Public Facilities Authority requested the easement for the purpose of installing a gas line for an asphalt plant that is being constructed by Robinson Construction.

“The gas line will likely be put in right-of-way if denied, so whether approved or not, this gas line is likely going to be installed and extended to the end user,” Tannehill said. “The denial or approval doesn’t necessarily affect the approval of the end use of this gas line easement.”

NOPFA requested a 20’ easement for a natural gas pipeline on city-owned property that’s located south of the Tahlequah Municipal Airport, on the north side of State Highway 51.

Several area residents voiced their concerns during a Feb. 5 meeting and asked that the board deny the easement. One attendee advised that those who live in the area were not notified before construction began.

“I did some checking and according to, ‘Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have relatively high density and are toxic or poisonous even at very low concentration. Examples include mercury, cadmium, copper, arsenic, lead, and cobalt,’” Ed Hayworth said.

He added that the surrounding lakes and rivers are an important part of tourism, and he said Pecan Creek dumps into Lake Fort Gibson. The creek runs through the build site of the asphalt plant.

Allison Briggs lives in Pecan Creek Circle and she wanted to speak on facts pertaining to asphalt and what the Environmental Protection Agency has advised about the Pecan Creek watershed.

“The Pecan Creek watershed, which feeds to Mallard Bay at Sequoyah State Park, sits right next to this plant and the EPA has already labeled it ‘impaired,’’ she said.

Briggs went on to say that the proposed asphalt plant wasn’t a benefit for the community as the formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals would be polluting the air.

“It seems like temporary jobs with long-term health implications for our people. I really urge you guys to vote no on the easement. I know that we can’t really stop this, and I understand that but for the health of all of us, for the health of you, for the health of our children, I’m going to ask you guys please, please, please, think about the implications this for the future,” she said.

Jack Carlisle resides on Baker Road, and he said there was no reason for the city to grant the easement.

“It not being good for the city, I understand we can’t talk about that. You guys really want to know the real story, you should go talk to the people that live by Poteau. They will tell you how bad it is, they can’t swim in their swimming pools, their houses are covered,” he said.

Cece Thomason-Murphy grew up next to an asphalt plant and she said there are long-term health issues she and her mother are still experiencing.

“I have damaged lungs from inhaling the soot and whatever comes in to the windows, through our air filter system, through our water,” she said.

She reiterated what those who spoke before her said, there’s no benefit to the proposed asphalt plant.

“We have a lot of opportunity here to set a good precedent of, ‘We’re going to put the citizens before we’re going to put someone from outside.’ Basically, people over profit,” she said.

Clay Wilson asked the board to deny the easement and to possibly look at building or leasing the proposed asphalt plant in the Industrial Park.

NOPFA General Manager Jim Reagan asked the council to approve the easement. He added that the problem with running the pipeline in the “state” corridor is that the “state” doesn’t like above-ground structures in the right-of-way.

“We would have to run a steel line all the way to the next property line and pop up there with the regulator station there. So, let’s just increase costs that [Robinson Construction Owner Chad Robinson] has incurred on what he’s paid here,” Reagan said.

Robinson was next to speak, and he said he was understanding of people’s concerns; however, asphalt plants have regulations.

“There’s lots of asphalt plants all over the country and even above us here in the cities, towns that’s in use every day that’s above all the watersheds here, and local watersheds areas. They’re all regulated the same way. We’re going to follow our guidelines, we’re not looking to move in here just for this project we got,” Robinson said.

Craig Wing said his residence is the closest to where the proposed asphalt plant is being built and his children play/fish in Pecan Creek, and his cows drink from the creek.

“I don’t know what they’ve done so far. I know they’re driving back and forth across it; I have more moss in this creek than I’ve ever had before right now,” Wing said. “Saying that you’re going to be doing the exact same thing that you do at all these other plants that I hear horror stories about, her health, other people’s health, is not what I want to hear when I’m living right there.”

Wilson said he spoke with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality last week and accused Robinson of beginning work to the project before submitting anything to the DEQ or the Corps of Engineers.

“If they’re unaware of these steps and these processes, I’m going to say there’s going to be further violations and what are those implications. What will be happening to his creek. What will be running into Lake Fort Gibson,” Wilson said.

Ward 3 Councilor Stephen Highers said he wasn’t satisfied with the answers to his questions from the Feb. 5 meeting and the city should be working with the Cherokee County commissioners.

“I’m for sure not personally ready to move forward with an affirmative vote for this. I guess if I were to have to vote tonight, I would vote to deny the permit, but I think that the action that should be taken is really in my view with no action to allow us to have the conversation with the county and see where we go from here,” Highers said.

Ward 2 Councilor Keith Baker said this decision was going to be one that affects county residents and they needed to also take that into consideration.

“That’s something maybe we need to think about in that type of spirit,” he said.

Ultimately, the board took no action on the matter.

What’s next

The next Tahlequah City Council meeting is Monday, April 1, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.


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