OklahomaHorses Magazine July 2022

July / August 2022 • OklahomaHorses 13 will create unprecedented pollution from vehicle traffic and petroleum-laden and chemical-laden roadway runoff directly into the Lake Thunderbird watershed, pollut- ing the drinking water for a quarter of a million people and water that wildlife relies on equally. The east-west connector that runs along the north part of Norman will cross the rivers and streams that feed Lake Thunderbird, adding more pollution to the water supply. The amount of impervious surface cre- ated by this turnpike will prevent adequate recharge of the underground water table — groundwater is replenished when rainfall is slowed down. This happens on pasture- land, in open spaces, in wetlands, and in tree-covered areas. Protection of this vital watershed is one of the key reasons east Norman is zoned to prevent homesteads on anything smaller than 10 acres. Lack of groundwater will lead to increased wildfires — disastrous for humans, livestock, and wildlife — and eventually to dry wells. Impacts on Humans The OTA and Governor Kevin Stitt have characterized this project as having minimal human impact. That is false. The homes of thousands of people, as well as their pets and livestock, will be destroyed needlessly, and people will become displaced and/ or lose the investments they have made in their homes and properties. The OTA and Poe and Associates, the engineering firm that the OTA has contracted to manage the project, euphemistically refer to the affected homes as “rooftops.” People’s lives will be turned upside down as their homes, properties, farms, and businesses are razed to improve commute times and travel-time reliability. Recently, OTA officials have pivoted to claim safety as the primary reason for this toll road, citing accidents along I-35. The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin- istration determined that speed, failure to wear safety belts, and driving under the influence are the most prevalent causes of highway fatalities — the turnpike addresses none of those causes. Although the conges- tion is real, it is speed that leads to highway fatalities — not fender benders caused by gridlock. Incredibly, 2020 had the highest number of fatalities on the roads since 2007, yet the OTA increased the speed lim- it throughout the turnpike system in spite of those facts that same year. Impacts on the Economy Every home destroyed means loss of property-tax revenue in Cleveland County — the vast majority of which funds schools and career tech. Homes not completely taken but sitting in the path of the turnpike will likely decline in value, the basis for property-tax assessments — no one moves to rural Oklahoma to become neighbors with a high-speed toll road. Although the OTA has not stated the number of homes likely to be destroyed, estimates by Pike Off OTA, the grassroots organization formed to bring accountability to the OTA and fight these projects, estimates the number to be more than 600 in Cleveland County alone — five times the number of homes the OTA destroyed to build the underused, underperforming Kickapoo Turnpike. In addition to the destruction of homes, businesses and farms, including horse farms, will be razed or adversely affected. In Cleveland County, there is not enough housing to accommodate the peo- ple who will be displaced, meaning many of them will be forced to leave a place they have called home for generations. Impacts onWildCare The proposed toll road runs a quarter to a half mile from the front of WildCare — an organization that has served Oklahoma for nearly 40 years, the result of thousands of people’s time, commitment, passion, and financial investments. WildCare provides people a place to bring wildlife struggling to survive with the goal of releasing healthy wildlife back to nature. WildCare also helps to resolve thousands of human-animal con- flicts and provides wildlife and conservation education throughout the state. In the past three years, WildCare has admitted nearly 22,000 ill, injured, or orphaned animals from 57 of the 77 counties in Oklahoma. The proximity of this toll road might make the WildCare location untenable for its work — added noise, pollution, and light are all detrimental to wildlife. The Truth about Toll Roads in Oklahoma The OTA uses bonds, which are loans, to build toll roads. Money is borrowed from private investors, most of whom do not live in Oklahoma. Bond buyers increasingly look for investments that meet environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria: envi- ronmental — how the business, project, or Coyotes roam throughout Cleveland County and rely on the cover of Lake Thunderbird for safety. Coyotes play a critical role in our infrastructure, keeping rodent populations in check. Texas horned lizards, once common but increasingly difficult to spot, nest in areas to be affected by the toll road.