Oklahoma County residents to consider bond proposal

Saturday, January 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma County residents will be asked to consider a bond proposal that could raise $50 million to finance an expansion of Tinker Air Force Base, which could be vulnerable in the next round of base closings.

Officials with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners announced the proposal during a news conference Friday afternoon. The commissioners are expected to approve a March 12 election date on Monday.

``Everyone who lives, works or operates a business in metropolitan Oklahoma City will benefit from the passage of this initiative,'' said Bob Funk, chamber of commerce chairman. ``Given the history of the chamber's steadfast support of Tinker Air Force Base, we are supporting the passage of this bond issue.''

Officials with the chamber and Tinker said the expansion will address safety, security and economic viability issues. It also will improve the base's chances of surviving a base closure round scheduled for 2005, they said. Since Tinker provides 24,000 jobs and has a $2 billion impact on Oklahoma's economy, keeping the base ensures economic viability, they said.

``In 1995, they (the base closure committee) looked hard at Tinker,'' said retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Richard Burpee, executive director of the chamber. ``When we defended Tinker, there was only one red dot _ violations around the runway. We were able to skate by that, but this could be a discrimination in the next round of base closings.''

Federal law dictates a ``clear zone'' of 3,000 feet by 3,000 feet surrounding the end of an active runway for non-military activities.

The end of Tinker's runway faces north toward SE 29 Street with Industrial Boulevard parallel to the east. Industrial is the dividing line between the base and the proposed annexed residential neighborhood.

The residential area poses a safety hazard and a security risk for the base.

``We have facilities just inside the fence line,'' said Lt. Col. Dave Thurston, director of public affairs at Tinker. ``There are specified distances and in some cases our fence line is too close.''

If passed, the bond issue would raise property taxes $2 per month for 10 years on a $100,000 home.

To expand, 104 homes will have to be evacuated and cleared. The areas considered for annexation are on either side of SE 29, between Douglas and Midwest boulevards. The area is directly north and east of the base's main runway.

Many of the homes are rented or unoccupied. Burpee said officials have not approached any of the affected residents, and didn't do so because they wanted to make sure county commissioners supported the bond proposal.

Mildred Whorton was unaware of an initiative to move her out, but the news didn't shock her.

``I've heard this before,'' she said. ``Over the years, they've just talked about it but never offered.''

Whorton has lived in her small three-bedroom home on Airway Avenue for 41 years. She owns two other houses in the area, including the one next door where her son lives.

At the end of her street, a fence separates private from military property.

``I'm 74 and it would be hard to move. But I would if I have to,'' Whorton said.

One factor that motivates Whorton to move is a stench in the area. Thurston said the base has the largest Defense Department wastewater facility.

``That corner right there gets the brunt of it,'' Thurston said of Whorton's neighborhood.

U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., said he is aware of the bond proposal but knows little about the details.

``My staff and I are reviewing all options to keep Tinker competitive in the next round of base closings and balancing those options with what impact it would have on the community,'' Watts said.