Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commissioners Monday night discussed possible ways to avoid the agency’s consolidation under recently proposed legislation.
Oklahoma House Bill 3173, proposed by Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Wynona, passed the House in late March, and is in committee in the Senate. The bill seeks to consolidate the OSRC within both the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Department of Tourism and Recreation.
All environmental regulatory authority of the OSRC would be transferred to the Conservation Commission.
During a recent trip to the state capitol, OSRC Administrator Ed Fite was told by Hickman and Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, to propose rule changes to the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act that would streamline operations and generate revenue.
During Monday night’s meeting, commissioners discussed how best to show support for Fite’s efforts in drafting an “alternative document” for amending HB 3173.
“So essentially what we’re here to do by approving the draft cover letter is patting Ed on the back for the work he’s accomplished under enormous time constraints,” said Commissioner Gerald Hilsher.
“Since we can’t slap [the legislators] in the face, yes,” said OSRC Board President Steve Randall. “We need to show the Legislature we are the governing body of this agency.”
Former OSRC Commissioner Ed Brocksmith asked board members if they planned to go along with absorption without a fight.
“Are you all resigned to the fact you’ll be consolidated?” asked Brocksmith. “What does that mean for the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Act that was fought so hard for? Are we relinquishing local control?
“Is the Conservation Commission the right agency to be consolidated with? It’s more closely related to agriculture interests and isn’t a water quality agency. Have you resigned yourselves to go away? It seems there are more questions than there are answers.”
Commissioner Rick Stubblefield told Brocksmith the draft, along with the letter, was a response to a direct request from the Legislature as a result of an emergency meeting.
“Surrender has not been considered an option in our conversations,” said Stubblefield.
“It’s important to let the Legislature know we want to stand on our own.”
Randall explained to the audience that the bill was passed out of committee and was up for passage before the OSRC was even notified. Randall insisted they intend to work diligently to preserve the agency.
“[Several commissioners and] I made the trip to Oklahoma City and actually got some face time with these very busy men,” said Randall.
“And it’s slowed things down somewhat. Before we talked to them, this thing was sledding right through the Legislature without any brakes.”
In other business, commissioners denied an appeal made by Brandon Girty, owner of the Tubin Shack at Welling, to obtain 50 commercial flotation licenses for a new inner tubing float business on Barren Fork Creek.
The appeal was denied unanimously, as the OSRC rules and regulations clearly state commercial floating in that area of the watershed is prohibited.
Commissioners ap- proved an interagency funding agreement that would continue surface-water monitoring and water quality sampling in the Illinois River Basin.
The project cost is $205,800, of which the OSRC’s portion is $71,500. Costs are shared with the U.S. Geological Survey federal matching funds, USGS National Streamflow Information Program funds, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District Office.
The next regular meeting of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission will be held at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 15, at the Armory Municipal Center on Water Avenue.