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A Senator's Lake House Vs. a Town Fighting Flooding



MIAMI, Okla. – On the shimmering waters of Grand Lake, a popular vacation spot in northeastern Oklahoma, families have spent the summer splashing around on boats, fishing for the lake's famous bass and enjoying weekend getaways at upscale waterfront homes.

But drive just a few dozen miles north, and the festivity dissolves into fear over flooding in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh), a city of 13,000 where one in four people live in poverty. For years, the town has been fought a losing battle against the wealthy community at the lake, where high water makes better boating and leaves. With heavy rains this year, the city of Miami and local Native American tribes say they were once again left to pay the price when floodwater clogged upstream, damaging their homes, businesses and ceremonial grounds.

Now, this backyard battle has escalated to the Hall of Congress, after one of the lake's residents, Sen. James M. Inhofe, got involved.

After decades of debate, local leaders had their hopes on a rare occasion to ask. But Mr. Inhofe – a top republican who is known to swim and fly around the lake, where his family owns a vacation home – quietly introduced legislation in June that would hamstring that agency .

"The fact that you own a home on Grand Lake "He added," makes your involvement even more inappropriate. "

Mr. Inhofe, who has the support of many on the lake, has long argued for higher water levels to "make the lake a better place for recreation and commerce." In a statement, he said his proposal would streamline oversight and what "just good policy . "

" Kay and I have been to our place at Grand Lake since we built it in 1962, "Mr. Inhofe said, referring to his wife . Decades of flooding

Miami sits just off the interstate about 90 miles from Tulsa, in a rural corner of the state where hayfields, cattle ranches and pickup trucks dot the landscape. Steve Owens, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1969. It's a small icon of hometown pride from a bygone era, when the city bustled with middle-class families and there were plenty of jobs at a BF Goodrich tire plans.

Today, the county – home to nine Native American tribes, whose members make up about 20 percent of the population – mostly gets by with factory work and tribal casinos.

Since the early 1990s, Miami has flooded more than two dozen times, Mr. Schultz said. About 150 houses have been torn down, and many more abandoned.

Nearby, the Eastern Shawnee tribe has flooded into three feet of water. The tribe evacuated 30 families and had to navigate dangerous roads that remained impassable for weeks, Chief Glenna Wallace said. "We have a mold everywhere," she said. "We have insects everywhere."

No one disputes that these communities have flooded again and again. [1969007] The Pensacola Dam, which was built in 1940 and created the lake , causes a "backwater effect"

"If you keep the lake levels high," Neil Grigg, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University,

He has also taken a look at Grand Lake, where records show that about $ 1 million in waterfront property belongs to his wife's name.

"For the better part of my career in the United States Senate I have been working to maintain higher lake levels on Grand," Mr. Inhofe wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2016, adding that he was concerned

His amendment would be the commission's authority on lake levels and flood control. So it says the federal land "should not be considered as a reservation.

"I want to vote against him for this," said Mike Mattingly, a 58-year-old truck driver and registered Independent in Miami, who said he spent $ 30,000 to repair his house after a flood in 2007 and lost Christmas decorations and power tools in the recent flood. "I do not care if it's a Republican, Democrat, Independent."

But Joe Harwood, 69, who owns a yacht club and marinas, said he and other business owners on the lake were pleased , "I do not know any that are not supportive of this," he said.

Ross Baker, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, said that while the senator's personal interests in the case might make it appear "slightly unsavory," it was unlikely to amount to a serious ethical violation in the Senate. Rather, he said, "In a state that would be politically more competitive than Oklahoma, this could be trouble for Senator Inhofe," he said. "But Senator Inhofe is a local institution."

In statements, Mr. Inhofe and the Grand River Dam Authority said the legislation would clear up confusion about who was in charge of flood control and empower one federal agency – the Army Corps of Engineers – to balance water flow in the region.

Richard Glick, a member of The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has cautioned that there is about 1,700 hydroelectric dams across the country.

"If you take the umpire out of the baseball games and let the pitcher call the strikes and balls," he said, "what do you think the pitcher is going to do?"

Mike Baker contributed reporting from Seattle , and Carl Hulse from Washington.


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