Inhofe Announces Funding for Tulsa Levees Feasibility Study

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) announced today that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted his request to fully fund the feasibility study for the Tulsa-West Tulsa levees project through supplemental appropriations for disaster relief and recovery funding. The feasibility study, authorized by Sen. Inhofe in 2016, is the critical first step to modernizing the aging levee system.

By including the feasibility study in the emergency supplemental, the Tulsa levees project can actually move forward faster than if it had been included in the annual work plan.

“The Tulsa levees protect hundreds of homes and businesses, as well as billions in critical infrastructure,” Inhofe said. “We needed to work quickly to modernize and rehabilitate the levees, so I authored a provision in the 2016 water infrastructure bill that gave the project the tools to get started. I am pleased that the feasibility study was included in the emergency supplemental, which will allow faster implementation of the project than had it been funded through the annual work plan. I thank R.D. James and Mick Mulvaney for personally working with me on this issue and look forward to continuing to work with the Army Corps to ensure the project continues to advance and remain a top priority.”   

The supplemental also included additional operations and maintenance funding for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. “The Army Corps of Engineers has shown that they are committed to making the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System a priority by including it in their annual work plan and in the supplemental appropriations. Currently, the MKARNS has a backlog of critical maintenance to its locks, dams and gates. This additional funding for its operations and maintenance will protect interstate commerce and enhance economic growth in Oklahoma and other adjacent states.”

The funding for the feasibility study was also praised by community leaders. 

Todd Kilpatrick, Tulsa Levee Commissioner, stated: “From the beginning, Sen. Inhofe has been proactive – working with Tulsa to ensure that our water infrastructure is sufficiently updated and modernized to protect against a significant flooding event. He authored the provision in the 2016 water infrastructure legislation that made the funding for the  feasibility study announced today possible. I appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for consistently working with the Tulsa community to make this a priority.”

Karen Keith, Tulsa County Commissioner, District 2, stated: "Tulsa’s levee system protects more than 10,000 citizens and some $2 billion dollars of infrastructure including two refineries and chemical companies and a levee failure could have catastrophic environmental and economic impacts for the region. Sen. Inhofe has been a consistent, outspoken advocate for our water infrastructure – working with Tulsa to author provisions in legislation that make it possible for us to rehabilitate our aging levee system.”

Key Background:

Securing the funding for the feasibility study has been something Sen. Inhofe has worked on extensively:

On December 9, 2016, the Senate authored S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which passed with a strong bipartisan vote of 78-21 and included a number of provisions integral to Oklahoma. Sen. Inhofe included a provision in the WIIN Act that required the Corps to complete the feasibility study after inspections revealed that the Tulsa levees, originally built in the 1940s, were not compliant with federal standards.

On March 1, 2017, Sen. Inhofe questioned General Semonite at an EPW hearing on the Tulsa levees, saying in part:

Senator Inhofe: General Semonite, in my hometown of Tulsa we have nearly 20 miles of levee, a system that was built by the Corps of Engineers back in the 1940s. We have about 10,000 people living within that. We have $2 billion of infrastructure, including a refinery, a very large refinery. Seventy years old, they are desperate and in need of repair and upgrades. Congress authorized a feasibility study and expedited budget consideration in last year’s WIIN Act. That was our effort. With the risk assessment taking over a year longer than promised, Tulsa is concerned about more delays in the lack of 46 the Corps prioritizing the project. It is my hope that we can get this done. Now, I am sure that you looked at that before, in preparing for this hearing. Our concern is these are old and there is not a week that goes by when I am back that this isn’t called to my attention. What kind of a commitment can you make that we are going to get this thing started?

General Semonite: Thanks, Senator. You bring up a good point. When you talk about levees, I think right now we have about 15,000 miles of levees that we constructed, but the Corps actually only has about 2,500 of those that we actually maintain. So we have to be able to continue to reach out to find out what can we do to assist. Several people here have talked about everybody has to pull their share to be able to work side-by-side. On this particular one, this goes back to that flood risk management study and to be able to make sure that we can review this, get this thing done, and understand how we are going to be able to come through on that. I don’t know exactly the details of where we are at on that, and I would like to have my staff come back to you on it.

Senator Inhofe: It would be a good idea. And I would like to ask that you personally look at this because it is something that should not have gone this long and it is critical.

On November 9, 2017, Sens. Inhofe and Lankford sent letters to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Douglas W. Lamont and Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite requesting that the Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System feasibility study be prioritized in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FY18 Work Plan and included as a new start in the FY 2019 budget request.

On December 6, 2017, Sen. Inhofe questioned R.D. James on the Tulsa levees during his confirmation hearing to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, saying in part:

Senator Inhofe: I have one thing I want to actually specifically talk about, because it is probably my greatest single frustration with the Corps. The cities of Sand Springs, Oklahoma and Tulsa, Oklahoma are protected by a levee system that was built in the 1940s, and the infrastructure is beyond its useful life. The system is in desperate need of repair and protects $2.2 billion in homes and business infrastructure along the Arkansas River, including two large refineries. Tulsa citizens have provided $15 million in funding for the project, but were stalled in moving forward because the feasibility study needs a new start. I have it on good authority that the project was on the Corps’ list to receive one of the six new starts that Congress appropriated last fiscal year, but, in the end, only one new start was awarded. So, the commitment I want to extract from you is that you will commit to ensure that this project remains a priority for the Corps as Congress finalizes their fiscal year 2018 appropriations to include new starts for studies. Can I get that?

Mr. James: Yes, sir, absolutely you will get it from me. If it was one of the proposed six this past year, I can’t see any reason that it wouldn’t remain on that list. It will become a priority to me. And another priority to me will be the shape our infrastructure is in in this Country. Why are we limiting ourselves to six new starts proposed and one new start accepted? That is bothering me. Senator Inhofe. Well, that bothers me too, and I appreciate that.

In February of 2018, Sen. Inhofe spoke with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to highlight the need for Tulsa-West Tulsa levees modernization to advance, given the fact the levees were classified as “high risk” by the Army Corps of Engineers.