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Tulsa, Jenks, Muscogee Nation solidify dam partnership

Max Bryan
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, right, signs a memorandum of understanding as Jenks Mayor Cory Box, center, and Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill, left, wait to sign at a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at the Jenks Riverwalk.

Two cities and a tribal government in Oklahoma have agreed to create a lake in the Arkansas River.

The mayors of Tulsa and Jenks joined Muscogee Principal Chief David Hill on Thursday afternoon in a formal agreement to build a dam in the Arkansas River between the two cities. The dam, set for construction just south of the Creek Turnpike bridge, will create a lake in the river from 101st to 71st streets.

The dam will ultimately cost more than $100 million between the three governments. The three leaders signed a memorandum of understanding during a news conference at the Jenks Riverwalk Thursday afternoon.

The leaders say the dam will spur significant development along the shoreline of the lake, and recreation on the lake.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said city officials have discussed the project since the 1960s. He had the goal of completing the dam when he joined city council in 2008.

“Thanks to a historic regional collaboration, we’re gonna make it happen,” Bynum said at the news conference Thursday afternoon.

The dam’s recent history dates back to 2016, when Tulsa and Jenks voters approved construction bonds for the project. Tulsa’s bond vote dedicated $64.2 million to the dam; Jenks’ bond vote dedicated $16.6 million.

In January 2022, The U.S. Department of Transportation gave $16.2 million toward a trail system in connection with the dam project. The project officially went forward after the Muscogee Nation voted to put $8.2 million toward the project in December.

The city councils will now vote on tax increment finance districts to greenlight the construction.

“It’s very important to us at the city of Tulsa that this will be a historic success for Creek Nation citizens. It’s important to us that the faith you have placed as a council and as a chief and as a second chief in this project, that we will show how right you were in supporting it,” Bynum said.

Hill said the Muscogee Nation’s strong relationship with FEMA will ensure infrastructure along the river will properly facilitate the lake.

Bynum said developers have expressed interest in building up the proposed lake area for years. Hill said the project will help the tribe develop land near their casino at 81st Street and Riverside Drive in Tulsa.

Jenks mayor Cory Box said his city’s leaders can now plan for growth from the Oklahoma Aquarium through the city’s River District.

“This is really the true game changer for the future of our city,” said Box.

While Bynum was excited for the possibilities that the project brings, he said he “especially” loves the collaboration between the three governments. He said cities throughout the United States often pit themselves against each other over developments.

“We’re guilty, historically, of that ourselves, here in the Tulsa area,” Bynum said. “This represents a setting aside of that false mindset, because we know that when we’re working together, we can compete with anyone around the world.”

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.