Caught in the classic tension between natural beauty and economic development, Edmond has fretted for years about what to do with Arcadia Lake. There have been few tangible results. But that situation could change dramatically if Arcadia Lake follows the lead of another Oklahoma jewel near Tulsa.

Both Arcadia and Skiatook Lake in Osage County were built by the U.S. Corps of Engineers as flood control projects that also provide water and recreation for nearby cities. At 1,800 acres, Arcadia is one-sixth the size of Skiatook.

Future Corps projects will be funded by the $14 billion Water Resources Development Act of 2007, H.R. 1495. The House approved the bill Aug. 1 by a vote of 381-40. It’s the same legislation that will declare Arcadia Lake paid for in full, if signed by President Bush. It also includes a lot of the controversial earmarking you’ve heard about during the past several months.

One section of WRDA reauthorizes “innovative programs” involving “creative management strategies that optimize recreational activities” specifically at underdeveloped Corps lakes in Oklahoma.

No other state in the nation benefits from this program, the language having been inserted by Oklahoma’s Sen. Jim Inhofe.

Under a previous incarnation of WRDA, the Corps used Inhofe’s amendment to enter into a public/private partnership with the Skiatook Economic Development Authority under a 50-year, rent-free lease. In 2003 SEDA then subleased hundreds of acres of lakefront property to a private company called StateSource LLC to develop Skiatook Lake, again rent-free.

The Corps, of course, used taxpayer dollars to buy the land and build the lake. The Corps legally can lease land for free to a public agency. What’s unusual is the fact that SEDA subleased the property to a private developer and passed the savings along to him, skirting federal regulations that require private developers to pay market rates for such leases. The estimated savings to the developer amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporate welfare.

What is StateSource? It’s headed by Ron Howell, who helped run Inhofe’s House and Senate races. Inhofe had just become the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which oversees the Corps. Now that Democrats have taken control of the Senate, Inhofe remains the ranking Republican on the committee. It’s the same committee former Vice President Al Gore addressed earlier this year about global warming.

Howell has a long record of working for right-wing political causes, and had raised substantial sums for Inhofe and other conservative Republicans during the years. He had no experience in real estate or resort development. But that didn’t prevent him from landing this deal of a lifetime.

StateSource’s CrossTimbers Resort now occupies 700 acres of land, including 5 miles of waterfront. The complex will include boat slips, a 2,700-square-foot boat shop, 2,100-square-foot lighthouse, marina, restaurants, cabins, lakeside cottages, tennis courts, a fitness center, a 3,000-square-foot conference center and an 18-hole championship golf course.

Although concerned neighbors were told by the Corps in 2003 that only 100 slips were planned, Howell was quoted in the Journal Record this March he expects to have 700 slips by 2008.

“It’s all about cash flow,” Howell was quoted as saying in the Journal Record article. “As you grow from here, your cash flows very nicely.” That’s especially true if you don’t have any expenses for land acquisition or mortgage costs. Howell also is pressing for free lease rights to be extended from 50 years to 100 years, according to the article.

A $500,000 federal appropriation will build a paved road that will spur further development around the resort. That will allow guests to view the $250,000 artificial waterfall Howell just completed on one of the lake’s three coves.

In another article last month, the Tulsa World said the WRDA pilot program would be expanded to encourage private development on other federally controlled lakes in Oklahoma. New guidelines to benefit other private developers will be based on the Corps’ experience with StateSource.

Could Arcadia be next? A small study done by Oklahoma State University in 2000 indicated Edmond residents would prefer to visit Arcadia Lake for walking, relaxing, picnicking, fishing, kayaking and biking. If followed, that would pretty much rule out an Edmond version of CrossTimbers Resort.

But when Inhofe, now 72, finally leaves the Senate, I’m sure he can find a comfy place on a friend’s sofa at Skiatook Lake to rest his weary head. Maybe it will even be rent free.

WALTER JENNY JR., an Edmond resident, is secretary of the Oklahoma Democratic Party and chairman of the Edmond Democrats.

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