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Creek chief fears bridges burned with Tulsa

Creek chief fears bridges burned with Tulsa

by: CLIFTON ADCOCK Tulsa World Staff Writer

Thursday, June 04, 2009
6/4/2009 3:34:54 AM

OKMULGEE — Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief A.D. Ellis said he fears that plans for building a bridge linking Jenks and south Tulsa may have damaged the tribe's relationship with Tulsa.

On Monday, the tribe completed the approximately $2.5 million purchase of three plots of land comprising around 42.5 acres between 121st Street and the Arkansas River and between Yale and Sheridan avenues.

Tribal officials have said plans are being considered to build a bridge in that area spanning the Arkansas River between Jenks and south Tulsa.

The idea of a bridge does not sit well with some homeowners in the area, and Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen has vowed to fight the construction if infrastructure improvements are not paid for by the builders or if the bridge funnels traffic onto Yale Avenue in Tulsa.

A similar proposal a few years ago by the cities of Jenks and Bixby to build a toll bridge met with resistance from Tulsa residents and officials. The matter ended up before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which decided that the bridge could not be built without the city of Tulsa's consent.

In April, the Creek Nation's legislative body, the National Council, passed three pieces of legislation authorizing the purchase of the land and ordering that an application be submitted to put the land into federal trust once the purchase was complete. Although Ellis returned the legislation to the council unsigned, it still became law.

"I wasn't in favor of the bridge in the first place. (But) it wasn't my call; it was the National Council's call," Ellis said at a press conference Wednesday. "I can't stop it by myself."

Ellis said he fears that the issue has damaged the tribe's long-standing good working relationship with Tulsa.

"I personally, as principal chief, don't want to ruin our relationship with the city of Tulsa," he said. "I think what's going on now has created a big mistrust with the city. I think people are taking a different look at the Creek Nation, and I don't like the reputation we're getting."

Ellis said he hopes the disagreement can be ironed out, and he said he hopes the tribe's Trade and Commerce Authority, the business entity that would oversee development of the land, would work with the city of Tulsa.

Ellis said he knew few details of the bridge proposal but that if a bridge were built, it likely would not be until after the land is in trust, a process that could take years and face many hurdles.

"I'm not fully convinced that it will be good for the (Creek) Nation," Ellis said. "We need to create jobs and income quickly, not down the road possibly seven or eight years."

An application to put the land into trust has not been submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs yet, Ellis said. The BIA requires a tribe to disclose its intentions for land in its application prior to putting any land into trust status.

National Council member Bill Fife said the issue probably would not harm the tribe's relationship with Tulsa.

"I don't think it would hurt the relationship too much because it's a development project that would probably be coordinated with the city," he said. "The tribe would have to depend on the local utilities. Things like that can be negotiated and worked out."

Fife said that "from what I hear, a bridge is needed in that area to lighten the traffic load in other areas. I guess it's to be seen what will happen there. I'm not sure if they'll build a bridge or not."

Regardless of whether a bridge is built, the location is a good place to develop, Fife said.

"Until we start thinking out of the box and getting into the real world and competing with the industry standards today, we're going to be stuck in Okmulgee with nothing and everyone else will be progressing," he continued.

"There's a lot of tribes around the country that are doing well today because they stepped up to the plate and took a few risks here and there, and that's what I feel like we're doing," he said.

Meanwhile, Ellis said he signed a contract Tuesday to allow Easton Sod Farms to continue operating on one of the parcels of property while the trust process is taking place.

"As far as I'm concerned, I think there's more money in sod farming than there would be a bridge," Ellis said.

The property was purchased from Easton Family Limited Partnership, of which Bixby City Council member John Easton is a general partner and signee on the warranty deed, as well as president of Easton Sod Farms. The tribe paid about $1.4 million for the land.

Easton, who was elected to office this year, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

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