Gov. Mary Fallin believes that deals the state entered into to sell Oklahoma parkland at Lake Texoma to the private developer Pointe Vista Development are fundamentally flawed, and that state officials should not have signed the contracts as written, she said through a spokesman.
The deals, including a contract between the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Pointe Vista that the state released to The Oklahoman late Friday, lack proper safeguards and recourse for the state to ensure the development proceeds as promised, Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said.
The Tourism Department's contract with Pointe Vista also should not have been subject to a confidentiality agreement, which has barred the public from reviewing the document, Weintz said.
The agency released the contract to The Oklahoman after securing Pointe Vista's permission to do so. Although the Tourism and Recreation Commission voted to approve the contract at a public meeting in 2008, the agency contends the agreement is not subject to state open records laws.
“The governor believes that any contract with Pointe Vista for the sale of land at Lake Texoma should have included a mechanism to ensure that timelines for construction and development were met and that the state had recourse if they were not,” Weintz said in a statement. “She also believes that any contract should have been public and contained no language attempting to make it secret. She would not have signed the contract as it was agreed to by the previous administration and previous state personnel.”
During her tenure as lieutenant governor, Fallin was an early supporter of privatizing state parkland. During her time in the U.S. House of Representatives, she and Rep. Tom Cole co-sponsored a bill in 2007 to help clear up the ownership of 227 acres of Lake Texoma State Park land that the federal government had a claim to, further paving the way for private development. The legislation allowed for the transfer of Lake Texoma shoreline from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the state Tourism Department.
The $750 million to $1 billion Pointe Vista development on Catfish Bay in Marshall County was touted as a way to bring new investment to Lake Texoma State Park when first announced more than five years ago, but construction on a four-star hotel, water park and high-end shops and restaurants that were promised for the area have yet to move forward. Pointe Vista has blamed the economic downturn of 2008 for a lack of funding for the project, as well as a lack of infrastructure on the site.
With progress at a standstill, the deals have come under increased scrutiny in recent months. Pointe Vista's agreement to develop more than 700 acres of parkland the developer purchased in 2008 spells out a deadline of May 2014 for construction to begin on the hotel, but the only remedy for the state is a clause that allows the state to sue Pointe Vista to enforce the contract.
The Tourism Department had been squabbling with Pointe Vista over who should pay the cost of an environmental study that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires to sell part of the land to Pointe Vista, but the developer agreed last week to fund the study. Pointe Vista is still working to move the project forward, the developer said in a statement.
“In light of our decision to fund the environmental impact study, we are hopeful to meet with (the Tourism Department) as soon as possible to move the project forward,” Pointe Vista said.
Pointe Vista previously declined to allow the Tourism Department to release the contract but reversed course after The Oklahoman published a front-page story about how the state would not release the contract to the public.
“The Department of Tourism and Recreation is committed to openness and transparency, so it was our desire to release the Pointe Vista Development contract as quickly as possible,” the agency said in a written response to The Oklahoman.
Pointe Vista agreed to let the contract be released to the public “because it was the right thing to do,” the developer said in a statement.
Waiting for progress
Weintz said the governor is frustrated that Pointe Vista has stalled and is working to see the progress at Lake Texoma.
“Governor Fallin has instructed her staff and relevant state agencies to work within the confines of the law to support progress at Lake Texoma and ensure local communities and the state of Oklahoma can benefit from this great natural resource,” Weintz said. “She shares the frustration of local residents who want to see movement and progress, and she is doing everything in her power to break the current logjam.”
The Tourism Department, in a statement, expressed similar frustration.
“Unfortunately due to decisions made by previous administrations — not current state leadership or personnel — the state has little recourse,” the department said. “Nevertheless, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Commissioners of the Land Office are pressing forward, trying to find both short- and long-term resolutions to this protracted and difficult situation.”