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Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry says he didn’t influence Shawnee highway project

BY RANDY ELLIS Modified: May 10, 2010 at 9:01 am •  Published: May 9, 2010


The reasons organizations have given for supporting or opposing the proposed interchange are as varied as the organizations themselves.

The Shawnee Board of Commissioners and Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce have passed resolutions backing the proposal as a boon to residential and commercial expansion in the area and as a way to provide traffic relief.

The Sac and Fox Nation countered with a resolution stating the proposed interchange could "potentially exterminate vital traditional cultural practices such as funerals, feasts, adoptions, clan ceremonies and annual dances as actively and traditionally practiced by the tribal community of the Sac and Fox Nation.”

Randle Carter, Sac and Fox treasurer, said tribal members have allotment lands in the area that for more than 100 years have been used for traditional ceremonial practices that normally aren’t talked about with the public.

Marilyn Bradford, superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools, said she opposes the interchange because it and surrounding areas lie "entirely outside of the Shawnee School District’s boundary and taxing jurisdiction.”

The Shawnee School District is bordered on the north, south and east by Grove and three other prekindergarten through eighth-grade schools that feed students into Shawnee High School, she said. Increased commercial and residential growth in the Grove School District likely would add students to the high school without adding revenues to fund their education, she said.

Boone’s objection is over student safety and traffic. The school is about a mile south of where the proposed interchange would be built.

Project’s status
Ridley said his agency began studying the project’s feasibility of the in 2007.

The department has $5.9 million in mostly federal funds for the interchange, but the project won’t progress unless additional funds are provided from some other entity such as the city of Shawnee, Pottawatomie County or an Indian tribe, he said.

Opposition from the Sac and Fox Nation is a double blow that could kill the project, he said.

Federal officials are reviewing the environmental impact of the proposed interchange and will take tribal cultural concerns very seriously, Ridley said.

In addition, transportation officials thought the Sac and Fox Nation might be a source of matching funds and that now appears unlikely, he said.

"That certainly may be a game changer,” he said.

If the project is approved, the earliest construction could begin is about 18 months, he said.

Ridley said he knew Henry’s family had a law office in the area but was not aware he co-owned 40 acres along the interstate. The director said he also knew the commission chairman was developing the Shawnee Country Club, but didn’t know where it was located.

"We build interchanges and roads close to property owned by some pretty heavy hitters all the time, and that doesn’t enter into it,” Ridley said. "I haven’t talked to the governor about it.”

The governor said when he was asked about the project earlier, "my only comment was that ODOT should follow its normal procedures in determining the best site without any influence or input from me.”

"Because of Shawnee’s growth and traffic count, state and federal transportation officials determined several years ago that the area desperately needed another interchange, but it doesn’t matter to me where it is located,” he said.

Contributing: Staff Writer Ann Kelley