$1.8 million federal stimulus dollars will go towards maintenance for the Oklahoma River Cruise boats and a new maintenance facility.
Sen. Tom Coburn opposes the funding for the river cruise boats saying the boats are strictly for Oklahoma City and federal tax dollars should not used to maintain them.
The Central Oklahoma Transportation Authority spokesperson said the river cruises do meet the city's growing transportation needs, and they plan to add more stops along the river to provide residents with more transportation options.
By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Next time you see an Oklahoma River Cruise boat heading down the river, you'll know your tax dollars are at work. $1.8 million federal stimulus dollars will pay for maintenance of the boats and a new maintenance facility.
"It does provide an integral part of our transit service. It's just very different then what anyone would consider to see in Oklahoma City," said Michael Scroggins, Public Information Manager for Central Oklahoma Transportation Authority.
According to COTPA, less than 12 passengers ride on each of the cruise boats' scheduled trips. So far this year, 10,911 people have gone for a ride.
Karen Ingham said right after she stepped off the boat, she loved it and couldn't wait to bring her grandkids on board. However, she said she didn't agree with tax dollars going toward the cruises.
"All American people now are having to stretch their dollars that they have coming in on their income, if they even have a job and I just think it's wasteful," Ingham said.
Senator Tom Coburn agreed.
"For us to get money to maintain cruise boats is to me absurd," Coburn said. "It's a responsibility of the people of Oklahoma City. It's not a federal responsibility. No dollars should go for it, none, zero."
So, if even lawmakers are against it, how did the river cruises get federal dollars?
First, COTPA decided it wanted to use federal stimulus money for the maintenance. Next, COTPA had to go before ACOG, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments for approval. The policy board at ACOG, made up of local government officials, had to give it the OK.
"We have to look at those applicants to see what their eligibility is and if what they're asking for in terms of the grant or the project is eligible under Federal law to be advanced," said John Johnson, Executive Director of the Association of Central Governments.
While the board approved this project, it never considered whether it was worthy of receiving tax dollars.
"We're not the judges of a beauty contest. We're to determine what the applicant's eligibility is. The people who write the checks, the Federal Government, they're the judges of the beauty contest," Johnson said.
The Impact Team also talked to a spokesperson from the Federal agency in charge of these dollars, the Federal Transit Administration. We wondered how closely the FTA scrutinizes the application to see if the project really should receive tax dollars.
"If it's a transit project and the local government says it's what they need to meet their transportation needs, then the federal government by law, can't withhold funding," said Paul Griffo, Senior Public Affairs Officer for the Federal Transit Administration.
The Central Oklahoma Transportation Authority spokesperson said the river cruises do meet the city's growing transportation needs. Scroggins said they will add more stops and continue to make this an option for those who live and work in the area.
"We look to the future and we're proactive in providing infrastructure and for fulfilling a need that may not yet be extremely apparent right now but will be in the next few years," Scroggins said.
Scroggins also pointed out, the FTA money for the ferry service is designated for ferry services in the United States. So, if it didn't go to Oklahoma, it would've gone to another state, instead.
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