The Edmond Sun

July 23, 2013

Thriving Altus in jeopardy of water shortage

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — In 1891 a  raging flood washed away the wooden structures of the small community of Frazer in what was then the southwest area of Oklahoma Territory. Those who survived that event constructed a new settlement several miles away on higher ground that became the town of Altus.  

Like its predecessor, it was originally constructed of wood, but in the early 1900s a rail line was built that brought red and yellow bricks from Texas that were used to construct the buildings that constitutes its town square.

Altus prospered as an agricultural and ranching community and in 1943 it became the home of Altus Air Force Base which now  plays an important role in the nation’s defense. As documented on the base’s website, the Altus area averages 300 days a year that are conducive to flying and its generally flat terrain  make it an ideal place for pilots to hone their skills.  

And, the support that Altus provides to that facility and those men and women who serve there has become a model for the nation. Several times a year local organizations invite the Air Force personnel and their families to barbeques and other events to make them feel welcome. It has been said that those who have served at Altus Air Force Base often speak of the beauty of southwest Oklahoma and the warmth of the people who live there. Some of those  Air Force  people have returned to Altus after they completed their military service and now play an active role in the community.

The presence of the base has brought an ethnic and racial diversity to Altus and also created a local infrastructure that is conducive to the aeronautic industry that might provide for its future development.

Several years ago, the citizenry of Altus approved a ballot measure that increased the local sales tax to fund several civic improvements, including the lengthening of the runway at the base so that it can be used for commercial purposes. An aerospace company, Sikorsky Aircraft, recently opened a facility in Altus where helicopter pilots from the United Arab Emirates and other states will be trained. While the Altus town square fell upon hard times several decades ago as strip shopping centers lured retailers and their customers away from it, in recent years it has experienced a rebirth under the auspices of the Main Street Program that is operated by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. That program provides assistance and advice to communities that have joined it that include the services of an architect and business development experts.   

Amy Jo Cobb, who is the director of the Altus Main Street Program, recently showed a visitor some of the new  businesses that have opened in downtown Altus and told of how an art gallery is planned that will be adjacent to a public place with chairs where people can gather. Cobb also reports that some people have expressed interest in renovating some of the second floors of buildings on the square and making them  residential units.

But, the continued prosperity of Altus could be in jeopardy if it is not able to obtain additional sources of water. It currently receives water from the Tom Stead Reservoir in neighboring Kiowa County and that facility has had difficulty in replenishing its water reserves due to the recent drought. Altus has imposed   restrictions on the use of water as a result.

The Altus City Council recently voted unanimously to hire a firm from Fort Worth, Texas, to develop new sources of water for it.  

If Altus is able to obtain access to more water, it may in time grow into a center of the aeronautic industry.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.