The state Tourism and Recreation Department will not provide a copy of a contract to sell more than 1,000 acres of state park land at Lake Texoma to a private developer, although experts say the document should be subject to the state's open records law.
The contract, penned in 2008 by state tourism officials with Oklahoma City-based Pointe Vista Development, is for the sale of 1,022 acres of land in Lake Texoma State Park that includes a public campground with panoramic lake views in Marshall County.
Although the Tourism Department voted at a public meeting in 2008 to approve the sale, agency officials say the sale agreement is confidential and cannot be released without Pointe Vista's consent.
Oklahoma's Open Records Act states that most contracts involving taxpayer money and public land are public documents, said Joey Senat, an advocate for open records with the organization FOI Oklahoma Inc. and an associate professor for Oklahoma State University's School of Media and Strategic Communications.
“I don't see how the state can keep secret a contract to develop taxpayer-owned property,” Senat said.
Tulsa Attorney J. Schaad Titus, who has handled cases involving the Open Records Act, said that the document should be available to the public.
“I am unaware of anything specifically in the Open Records Act that lets them do that,” he said.
Although the state can withhold information relating to appraisals of real state, the contract itself should be public, Titus said.
Titus, who reviewed the confidentially clause in the agreement, said the state should be able to release a redacted version of the document if there is sensitive information relating to the sale price of the land.
Pointe Vista, led by Chaparral Energy CEO Mark Fischer and former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, already has finalized the purchase of 758 acres of park land at Lake Texoma for $14.6 million. Plans call for the construction of a four-star hotel where a now-demolished state lodge once stood. However, construction has yet to begin.
The sale of the additional 1,022 acres of land to Pointe Vista, negotiated with the Tourism Department in 2008, has yet to be finalized because Pointe Vista has not completed an environmental impact study required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to transfer some of the land that is held by the federal government.
Hardy Watkins, who was Tourism Department director at the time the agency negotiated the agreement with Pointe Vista, said he could not recall specifics about the terms of the deal.
Faced with budget cuts and a bevy of deferred maintenance problems at Lake Texoma State Park, the Tourism Department negotiated the deal with Pointe Vista because it believed that a private developer could bring in more tourism dollars to the state by creating a resort-like atmosphere, Watkins said.
The development plans included condominiums, a four-star hotel and a water park.
“It was a pretty comprehensive agreement, and we negotiated deadlines for development with ramifications if those deadlines weren't met,” Watkins said.
Watkins, who now works in the private sector, said he could not speak for the state on the matter, but he said the confidentiality agreement was meant to keep speculators out of the area around Lake Texoma who could drive up the cost of surrounding land for the development.
“There were discussions about per-acre cost of the land, and there was a fear that negotiations could drive up costs,” Watkins said.
The state's Tourism and Recreation Commission voted on the contract after several public discussions about the development, he said.
Claudia Connor, Tourism Department general counsel, said the agency is bound by a confidentiality agreement in the contract and cannot release the document to the public without Pointe Vista's consent.
The only part of the sale contract that Connor would release is the confidentiality clause in the agreement.
The lengthy clause states that the method for calculating the purchase price of the land “has significant independent value to the parties from not being generally known and disclosed” and that the document is not subject to the state's open record law.
Connor said she was willing to give a copy of the contract to The Oklahoman, but could not, because Pointe Vista's attorneys would not consent.
“To do so would invite litigation from Pointe Vista Development,” she said.
Pointe Vista declined to comment on why it would not release the document.
A group called Restore Lake Texoma State Park sent a public records request to the Tourism Department last week requesting a copy of the contract and other documents relating to the sale of the state park land, but it has not yet received a response, organizer Lisa Davis said.
Frustrated by the lack of progress on the development, the group is opposed to the sale of additional park land to Pointe Vista.
“There are a lot of issues with this land deal that are not above board,” Davis said.