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Water Resources Board approves loan to Tourism Department

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has approved $7 million in low-interest loans to the state Tourism Department so the agency can pay for urgent repairs at three state parks.

It's the first time the board, which approved the loans at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, has loaned money to another state agency said, Joe Freeman of the board's financial assistance division.

Problems with the wastewater treatment systems at Lake Texoma, Sequoyah and Tenkiller state parks nearly resulted in the facilities being closed by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The DEQ ordered rest rooms and showers at the three parks to be closed more than a year ago.

``It was not a good situation,'' DEQ spokeswoman Monty Elder said. ``It got so bad we had to take action.''

The Tourism Commission is scheduled to take action on the loans during a meeting next week.

``A number of our state parks have been operating at less than full usage for the better part of this year because of overburdened infrastructure,'' said Robb Gray, chief of staff at the Tourism Department.

``The Tourism Department is working with the DEQ to stay on timetables designed to minimize health hazards associated with wastewater problems at those parks.''

Tourism officials said the money doesn't fix environmental problems at other state parks.

Because the water board loan is earmarked only for sewage improvements, water woes at Red Rock Canyon and Great Salt Plains state parks in the north and western parts of Oklahoma can't be fixed until new money is available.

The 20-year, fixed-rate water board loans will be repaid using annually appropriated state money allowed by House Bill 1478, which passed earlier this year.

About $470,000 is already pledged toward the first payment, tourism spokesman Ron Stahl said.

Tourism Department officials decided to apply for the water board loan because the low-interest loan will save taxpayers more than $900,000, Stahl said.

Officials also considered revenue bonds, but ruled out that option because the improvements wouldn't create new revenue.

``We didn't have many options,'' he said. ``The Legislature gave us an opportunity by allowing this loan.''
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