"We're doing the happy dance down here in south Tulsa," Michael Covey, spokesman for the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition, told UTW last week.
The "happy dance" in this case is to the sound of the proverbial fat lady singing, because a three-year struggle to stop construction of a privately operated toll bridge from Jenks, connecting at the 121st St. and Yale Ave. intersection in south Tulsa, is now over.
"Neither Jenks nor ARBA has authority to build, maintain and operate a toll bridge outside of the corporate boundaries of Jenks and Bixby," read the unanimous decision issued by the Oklahoma Supreme Court last Tuesday.
The decision nixes plans by the Arkansas River Bridge Authority, comprised of the cities of Jenks and Bixby, and Infrastructure Ventures, Inc. to build a privately-operated toll bridge across the River, and that over vehement objections from south Tulsans and their elected officials at City Hall (for full details, see "Troubled Bridge" in the Oct. 18-24 issue of UTW at HYPERLINK "http://www.urbantulsa.com"; www.urbantulsa.com).
"Surreal" is an accurate word to describe his sense of the development, Covey said, considering the finality of the decision after so many twists and turns to the story over the years.
"This is not appealable: it was in the state Supreme Court and there are no federal issues involved, so there is no higher court to for them to appeal to," he said.
"When you get nine Supreme Court justices together, it's hard to get them to agree on anything, and to have all of them concur unanimously on what you've been trying to say for three years, and that often on deaf ears..." Covey said of the sentiment fueling the STCC's victory dance.
Neither IVI president and CEO Bill Bacon nor Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland returned telephone calls, though, to comment on what kind of dances they were doing.
Several months ago, though, on the front end of the lawsuit, Bacon told UTW, "We've been challenged in court twice, and twice we've prevailed."
Covey and Co. lost two previous lawsuits against IVI and ARBA before appealing to the Supreme Court, and Bacon expected the same conclusion again.
He made his comments, though, prior to the outcome of another lawsuit by Vreeland last year against Mayor Kathy Taylor, attempting to compel her to sign an engineering services contract, which would have been the first step in the process for design work for the Tulsa-side of the bridge.
About two weeks after it was filed, Tulsa County District Judge Rebecca Nightingale threw the suit out on the grounds that it was Taylor's prerogative to sign or not sign the contract as she saw fit, contrary to Vreeland's contention that it was a "ministerial" rather than "discretionary" duty (for full details, see "A Week of Lawsuit Frivolity" in the Nov. 1-7 issue of UTW at www.urbantulsa.com).
While the latest decision essentially rang the death knell for the IVI bridge plan, it still leaves much of the controversy surrounding it unanswered, however.
In addition to its contention that ARBA cannot determine the use of land outside the corporate boundaries of Jenks and Bixby, the STCC also contended in its lawsuit that ARBA violated the state constitution by granting IVI a franchise without submitting the issue to a vote of the people, and by granting IVI a franchise for a term 50 years longer than legally allowed.
Also, the group contended that ARBA can't incur a financial obligation past the current fiscal year without voter approval, and that the project should have been open to competitive bidding before entering an agreement with IVI.
In an interview with UTW in October, Covey said the outcome of the lawsuit would have repercussions for the other public/private partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructure development throughout the state.
But, because the court only addressed the question of ARBA's infringement on Tulsa's land, all of the other legal questions are still up in the air, which means there's nothing in the decision to stop IVI or another group from forming PPPs in other parts of the state, so long as they do so with the approval all municipalities concerned.
"Supreme Court justices are busy people," Covey said of the judges addressing only the single claim.
But, a victory is still a victory, and Covey said STCC members are going to revel in theirs.
When he said they're "doing the happy dance," he wasn't kidding. Upon learning of the decision, a party was planned for the following Saturday to celebrate the conclusion of their three-year legal battle.
After the party, Covey said the group will wait for the dust to settle before disbanding, and possibly find a legal avenue to recoup the more than $125,000 they spent on attorney fees on the way to their victory.
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