A Personal Testimony on State Corruption

by Stephen on 02/22/2016

Texoma Riding Stables Destroyed by State Corruption

Lake Texoma State Park Concessionaires Destroyed by State Officials

In September, 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hosted a Scoping Hearing in Kingston for the environmental study of a proposed 1,122 acre federal land transfer to the state of Oklahoma.  This is the additional land sought by the failed Pointe Vista Development.  They claimed in the court that the land commission failed to deliver and thereby caused the failure.

Pointe Vista refused to fund the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and quietly abandoned it in the fall of 2011 without informing the public.  I learned about it in 2012 and asked Corps environmental officer Stephen Nolen about it.  Nolen confirmed “there will be no Area C federal land transfer in the absence of a completed EIS.”

This is the same “Area C” which Governor Fallin and the state Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) have tentatively agreed to pursue on Pointe Vista’s behalf as part of their proposed “Pointe Vista Settlement Agreement” announced five months ago.

Since “the Settlement” releases Pointe Vista from their development contract,  you might ask why the state land commission would agree to pursue even more land for a failed developer.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense, and looks a bit crooked.   Is this the part of the Pointe Vista Settlement Agreement that is keeping them from submitting it for approval by the OK County District Court?

The following is the letter sent to Stephen Nolen from the former owner of Texoma Riding Stables, Ken Phipps,  dated 9/19/2009.  Phipps opposed the federal land transfer of Area C based on his experience with state officials who were instrumental in privatizing 758 acres of Lake Texoma State Park for Pointe Vista in 2008.

__________________________________________

TO: Stephen L. Nolen, Tulsa District,  Environmental Analysis and Compliance, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), 1645 S. 101st E. Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74128-4629

RE: Results of your 2008 sale of Lake Texoma State Park lands to the State of Oklahoma

Mr. Nolen,

First, let me state that, in principle, I am in favor of privatization when it is done right.

In the past, I supported the privatization of the Lake Texoma State Park Lodge, as well as the Lake Murray State Park Lodge.  I have had leased concessions with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, OTRD, since 1988,  when my wife and I leased Lakeside Grocery in Lake Murray State Park.  We spent well over $100,000.00 rebuilding the existing store. We successfully operated it until we sold the business in 2001.

My parents leased and operated Lake Murray Marina from 1978 to 1993. Their hard work forever changed Lake Murray from a sleepy little lake with a rundown marina to one of the most sought after places to harbor your boat in Oklahoma and Texas. So, I know from personal experience that privatization can work. Whether it is best to lease or sell public land is up for debate. I believe it is better for the citizens of Oklahoma if our public lands are leased, rather than being sold off. I oppose this planned federal land sale to the State of Oklahoma.

My story is about the way elected officials and bureaucrats destroyed Texoma Riding Stables, my business, and my dreams and my finances. In doing so, they have also damaged my marriage and health. This is the story about “Pony Boy,” a derogatory nickname the OTRD used for me, and the way my business was taken from me. This is a short version of the story of how the OTRD deliberately lied, mislead, and deceived me, all while planning to cancel my lease.

I entered into a contract with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department on May 17, 2002 to operate the Texoma Riding Stables in Lake Texoma State Park. This lease was for ten years with an option to renew.  At this time the Lodge and associated cabins were available for rent.  I estimate that the Texoma Lodge accounted for 85% of my customers. The stables themselves were rundown and an embarrassment to the state of Oklahoma.

My family and I spent thousands of dollars and worked countless hours repairing trails, fences, barns and sheds.  We have also bought and sold approximately 80 horses to be able to have the kind of horses that you would let your child or grandchild ride without fear of endangerment to the child.  Needless to say, I did not make money on the horses returned to the horse sale that we determined to be unsafe.

It takes four to six years before most businesses start reporting profits.  We were in our sixth year and were ready to continue providing the guests of Lake Texoma State Park quality horseback rides.  But there were major obstacles placed in our way which I feel could have been avoided.  The first was the Gagne fiasco of 2005.  Lodge personnel were advising customers they were welcome to make reservations, but could not guarantee that the lodge would be open due to the possible sale to Gagne.  As a result, we lost many regular customers.

Then came Pointe Vista Development.  Tourism officials assured us that the Lake Texoma State Park concessionaires, including myself, would not be damaged financially by the sale of the Park, and that, “things will be much better soon.”  The state park lodge and seventy cabins were closed prematurely in December, 2006, by the State.

During the 2007 Oklahoma and Texas spring breaks, the stables revenue was down 55% from the previous year. After a devastating Memorial Day weekend, I decided to cease operations.  I was given permission by the OTRD to suspend operations until the business climate improved.

When the sale of the property I occupied occurred, the OTRD cancelled my lease without any financial consideration for me. If I wanted to recoup my investment, I was told I would need to deal with Pointe Vista, which I did. I agreed to a settlement with Pointe Vista which was not what I needed to recover my investment but without any support from the OTRD, I believe it was the best I could negotiate.

Do I blame Pointe Vista for this travesty? No. Pointe Vista was under no obligation to offer me anything.  I blame our elected officials and the OK Tourism & Recreation Department for:

  • cancelling my lease, which I had operated in good faith, without complaints in six years
  • not offering me any buyout option from the OTRD
  • forcing me to negotiate a buyout by Pointe Vista without any leverage
  • threatening me personally several times throughout this process
  • causing me substantial financial damage
  • causing emotional stress to my wife and me

I maintained a diary of the communications with all the parties involved in this dark period of Oklahoma history.  It documents the promises, lies and threats made to me by everyone from the Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Tourism, the OTRD Executive Director, the state Attorney General’s office, our State Senators, as well as the local park management.

I have always been proud to be an Okie, but after my lessons in Oklahoma politics, it is hard to say anything positive about our elected or appointed officials. I strongly oppose this land sale.

Kenny Phipps

 

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