The Oklahoma Supreme Court has not yet approved the $480 million bond sale for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to fund its Driving Forward Program, but OTA is demolishing houses along the proposed Eastern Oklahoma County loop to connect I-40 to I-44.
“We did demo a couple structures. As we take ownership of structures, we will demo those because we don’t want to leave vacant structures up. They invite unwanted activity,” said OTA Spokesman Jack Damrill on Tuesday. The OTA board also met Tuesday and gave preliminary approved to its 2017 budget that amounts to $88 million for operations, and $113 million for Capital Budget Projects..
In just a few minutes on Monday, a ten-year old home along SE 15th was demolished.
It came as a shock to many neighbors, especially Shirley Hawthorne who is vehemently fighting the turnpike to save her home of 40 years, and the homes of her beloved neighbors.
“They are demolishing property that can never be restored before bond money has been approved or issued. Whether they own these homes or not, this practice might be legal but it sure isn’t moral,” she said.
Eyewitnesses who videoed the demolition and took pictures observed crews hauling off the air conditioning unit and other items before the bulldozer went to work.
Hawthorne and her neighbors have been fighting for nearly a year, and this demo took an emotional toll.
“It is related to how we weren’t contacted and told that they were considering putting the turnpike here, but we found out from the surveyors and all their markings. This sets a pattern of the OTA and how they do business without any accountability to anyone,” she said.
The State Supreme Court heard from OTA attorneys earlier this month on the bond sale, and were asked to repeal a lawsuit filed challenging the constitutionality of the funding mechanism. Attorney Jerry Fent sued calling the bundling of the Driving Forward projects “logrolling,” combining too many items in one bill to curry political favor. Our state constitution prohibits it. OTA denied its process is logrolling. A separate Supreme Court case involves the OTA asking for the court to sign off on its bond sale. That case is pending.
No word on when the state high court will rule, but we keep checking.
A few clues as to the number of homes OTA has already purchased can be found on the Oklahoma County Assessor website. Those who sell their homes to OTA are not supposed to talk about their buyout number.
Click on a property though and no sales price is disclosed citing it as a “non-sale document.”
Hawthorne and others want to bring attention to this activity, particularly since the bond sale is not approved to fully fund Driving Forward along with toll hikes on the entire 600 miles of turnpikes in the state. The toll hikes do not go into effect until the bond sale is approved.