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Feds Say Oklahoma Owes $21 Million

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Sardis Lake [photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] Sardis Lake [photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers]

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The U.S. Justice Department filed a legal claim against Oklahoma Thursday, demanding the state pay more than $21 million due under a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers for construction of Sardis Lake in southeast Oklahoma.

"It is unfortunate that we now need to go to court to seek enforcement of a debt that has already been fully litigated," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

"But the federal government pursued a variety of reasonable attempts over a period of several years to resolve this issue absent litigation, and the state has, in the end, rejected them all."

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry's office said Thursday it was reviewing the legal filing and had no comment.

The Justice Department says the state has owed payments to the federal government since 1983, and its last payment was 11 years ago.

The federal government's filing in U.S. District Court in Tulsa follows a judgment from the same court on May 19, 2005, ordering Oklahoma to pay more than $14 million within 90 days and to make further payments over a 36-year period.

The state appealed the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the federal government, and to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

The appeals court ruled that Oklahoma is required to perform its obligations under a 1974 contract calling for the state to repay the federal government in 50 annual payments for the lake's construction.

State officials argued the contract wasn't enforceable because the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits indebtedness beyond each year's legislative appropriations.

The reservoir is about 45 miles southeast of McAlester.

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