Thanks to a $1.8 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery V federal grant, also known as TIGER, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will be making improvements to 15 miles of state-owned track between Erick and Sayre in Beckham County. Rail upgrades allow effective transportation of more products from western Oklahoma’s thriving energy and agriculture industries.
New freight rail and public transit projects are coming to Oklahoma, thanks to two Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery V (TIGER) grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation was recently awarded a more than $1.8 million TIGER grant for freight rail upgrades to a previously unusable section of railroad in Beckham County and the City of Oklahoma City received a $13.6 million grant for the creation of a public transit hub.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who visited Oklahoma in late August to view the state’s transportation progress, announced the TIGER grant recipients on Sept. 5. A highly-competitive selection process was used to award the TIGER grants to only a handful of projects out of hundreds of applicants. A total of $474 million in discretionary grant funding was awarded to 52 projects in 37 states.
The TIGER grant awarded to ODOT will allow improvements to be made to 15 miles of state-owned track between Erick and Sayre, a section that has been out of service for a decade. Reopening of this railway will connect Erick to the freight rail corridor that serves major cities in western Oklahoma and was improved in 2012, when ODOT received a $6.75 million TIGER grant for rail upgrades between Clinton and Sayre. Construction associated with the recent TIGER grant is expected to begin in early 2014.
“Thanks to this TIGER grant, more communities will be connected by freight rail, which can grow existing businesses and bring in new businesses,” ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson said. “Railroad upgrades in western Oklahoma will allow more products from the area’s thriving energy and agriculture industries to be transported safely and efficiently by train.”
The City of Oklahoma City was also selected to receive a $13.6 million TIGER grant to help create an intermodal transit hub at the Santa Fe Depot. The station is located in downtown Oklahoma City and houses Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer, the state’s passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas. Construction of the transit hub will combine the federal grant with funds from the city, ODOT and the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.
“I applaud Oklahoma City for the initiative it is taking and we are proud to partner with them to improve public transit in the metropolitan area,” Patterson said. “Creation of this transit hub will actually benefit many areas of the state by linking the Heartland Flyer with other transportation options.”
Since inception of the TIGER program, Oklahoma has been successful in receiving grants benefiting several modes of transportation. Since 2009, nearly $78 million in TIGER grants have come to the state. In 2010, ODOT was awarded a nearly $50 million federal grant for construction of the new multi-modal bridge on I-244 over the Arkansas River in downtown Tulsa. The first of its kind constructed in the state, the double-decker bridge supports automobile, pedestrian and future passenger rail traffic. The department also assisted the Port of Catoosa in obtaining a $6.4 million TIGER grant to improve one of the nation’s largest and most inland ports.
A $13.6 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery V (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was recently awarded to the City of Oklahoma City to construct an intermodal transit hub at the Santa Fe Depot. Located in downtown Oklahoma City, the depot houses Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer, the state’s passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas. Construction of the transit hub will combine the TIGER grant with funds from the city, Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.
Broken Bow - A heartwarming combination of wood artistry and a project benefitting children with serious illnesses is coming together during a special competition and exhibit at the Oklahoma Forest Heritage Center in Beavers Bend State Park near Broken Bow. The Masters at Work: Woodturning Competition is partnering with the Beads of Courage program as artists from eight states including Oklahoma compete in four different categories.
What makes this year unique is the partnership with Beads of Courage, a program that began in 2004 to help children battling life-threatening illnesses. The program started in Arizona when Jean Baruch was working on her PhD in nursing and spent a summer helping with Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. She enlisted the help of the Arizona Society of Glass Beadmakers to create handmade beads to be given to patients as they move through different parts of their medical journey. Each bead represents a different treatment milestone.
A child may receive hundreds of beads and that is how the idea of beautiful boxes started. Woodturning clubs across the region got involved and answered the call to create boxes for children to store their beads. The program has made it all the way to southeast Oklahoma; serving as inspiration for this five week exhibit.
“This year’s exhibit is really special to all of us,” said Doug Zook, FHC Program Director. “The boxes will be donated to the Beads of Courage program and a child participating in the program will be one of the judges for the competition.”
This special event kicked off Sunday, Sept. 15 with a reception to announce the competition winners. The exhibit remains open and free to the public until October 20. Over 100 boxes displayed in the exhibit will be sent to Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City and Saint Francis Children’s Hospital in Tulsa to be distributed to children.
“The Forest Heritage Center has been working diligently to increase awareness of woodturning as an art form. By implementing a competitive twist while working with the Bead of Courage Program, we hope to increase public interest while providing a unique and creative challenge for our artists,” said Zook.
This exhibit promises to be an enjoyable event that will showcase wood art. Gallery hours are Wednesday – Saturday, 10a.m. – 4p.m. and Sunday 1p.m. – 4:p.m. For more information contact the Forest Heritage Center at 580-494-6497.
This exhibit is made possible in part by Oklahoma Forestry Services, Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, Oklahoma Arts Council, Regional Arts Council, Wood World of Texas and the Forest Heritage Center Advisory Board and staff. The Oklahoma Forest Heritage Center is part of Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and is located just north of Broken Bow.
Noble Foundation Assistant Professor Charles Rohla, Ph.D., pecan specialist, (left) examines pecan trees with producer Jake Montz.
ARDMORE, Okla. — Noble Foundation Assistant Professor Charles Rohla, Ph.D., was recently named one of 40 agricultural leaders in Vance Publishing Corporation’s inaugural 40 Under 40 in Agriculture Awards.
According to Peggy Walker, president of Vance Publishing Corporation, Rohla was selected because of his demonstrated involvement in the food industry, specifically contributions to the pecan industry through research, education and leadership. His primary research focuses on increasing pecan production through improved establishment methods, reducing alternate bearing and nutrient management.
"Over the last 3 years, Dr. Rohla has personally overseen the planting of more than 2,000 acres of pecan orchards on the farms and ranches of agricultural producers who work with the Noble Foundation,” said Billy Cook, Ph.D., director of the Agricultural Division. “Charles goes above and beyond for the pecan industry and producers. He is highly deserving of this award and is a great asset to the Noble Foundation, our state and the pecan industry.”
The mission of Vance Publishing’s 40 Under 40 is to identify and recognize extraordinary individuals in agriculture who have made an impact on both their organizations and the industry as a whole. "It is a tremendous honor to be selected," Rohla said. “I believe this is not just a reflection of my achievements, but those of the Noble Foundation, the agricultural producers I have the privilege of working with and the various organizations that have given me the opportunity to be involved in agricultural industry.”
Rohla received his bachelor’s degree in animal science, master's degree in agriculture education and his doctoral degree in crop science, all from Oklahoma State University. Rohla joined the Noble Foundation in 2006 as assistant professor on the Agricultural Division’s Agricultural Research Team. He also serves as a horticulture consultant with the division’s consultation program. He has authored and co-authored several national publications on pecan research.
Rohla was also named to The Journal Record’s Achievers Under 40 list in May. He currently serves as the Oklahoma Pecan Growers Association past president and on numerous committees and boards within the horticulture industry. Rohla was a member of the Oklahoma Ag Leadership Program Class 14.
With dove season opening Sept. 1, sportsmen have a lot of reasons to start preparing to go afield.
Reports from across the state are all pointing to the same thing, according to Josh Richardson, migratory game bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"It's been a good year for doves in Oklahoma," he said. "People are seeing large groups of birds forming up, and with the summer-like weather forecast for the next seven days, those groups should continue to grow."
The previous two years had been especially hot and dry, which may have affected many hunters' approach to dove hunting.
"Concentrating on water holes the last couple of dry years has been a good strategy, but for much of the state this year, water is far from being a limited resource," Richardson said.
While Richardson said hunting watering holes is still a good strategy, it may not be quite as effective as in the past few years.
"The best strategy for this year is to do your scouting, find a field birds are concentrated on before the opener, and hunt it."
With food sources more abundant this year compared to the past few seasons, Richardson said it won't take much hunting pressure for birds to move on from heavily used fields
"So don't think you've got the whole season figured out when you find the field they're using now and gain access to it. Try to scout around for several likely fields and get permission or at least make a quick initial contact with the landowner. This should help tip the odds in your favor if and when you have to change locations because the birds' patterns have changed."
In short, Richardson sums up his outlook on the 2013 dove season this way: "Bird numbers look very good, weather looks good, habitat looks good - should be a good season if hunters do their homework (scouting) and keep hunting where the birds want to be."
This year dove season will run Sept. 1 - Oct. 31, statewide, followed by another nine-day period open from Dec. 21-29, statewide.
Dove hunters are required to have a valid hunting license or proof of exemption and a free Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit, both available online at wildlifedepartment.com.
Full details and regulations for dove hunting are available in the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide," available free online at wildlifedepartment.com or at any location where hunting licenses are sold.
The State Superintendent has recommended a $2,000 pay raise for teachers. That raise, according to her recommendation, is to be paid from district one-time carry funds, and cuts into local school budgets.
Tulsa Public School Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard spoke out today about the proposal.
“No one supports increased teacher pay more than I do. In fact, teachers at Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) received a modest step increase on the first day of school, and we are in the process of finalizing negotiations regarding pay with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association," Ballard said.
"Since 2008, we have worked diligently to cut expenses at the district when we lost $22.8 million in funding. That work has already been done. My financial priorities now are teacher pay and increasing the number of teaching positions. I would also argue that there is room for a pay increase among our principal ranks."
“With regard to the suggestion that we pay for a $2,000-per-year pay increase for teachers with the district’s carryover funds, that would not be a fiscally responsible position. Carryover funds are reserve funds that are used primarily to manage cash flow from fiscal year to fiscal year. By law, districts are allowed 14 percent carryover. TPS’s ending fund balance for 2012-13 is $20.7 million, or 6.8 percent of revenue, which is well below what state law allows."
“The estimated cost for a $2,000 increase to teachers (including benefits) would be $6.6 million. Because we were extremely conservative in our spending last year, we have already taken some of the carryover funds and spent an additional $2 million on reading materials to help improve literacy. In addition, we spent $2.5 million on one-time payments to staff (a 2013-14 expense)."
Ballard stated to suggest that carryover funds be used to cover teacher raises is a poor solution, especially given the decline in per-pupil funding experienced over the last five years. He said a cardinal rule of school finance is not to pay recurring expenses, specifically teacher salaries, from one-time funds, specifically carryover funds.
"We are always looking for ways to cut operating expenses and revisit this every year," Ballard said.
"Let me remind everyone that TPS lost over $22 million during the last budget crisis. We were aggressive in making budget cuts through initiatives like Project Schoolhouse, an exercise we continue to perform on an annual basis and these cuts have already taken place through closed schools, administrative and teacher cuts, holds on the refilling of positions, etc."
"While Oklahoma teachers are deserving of a $2,000 pay increase, we will have to appeal to our state legislators to find a way to make this possible. We need a better long-term solution."
Oklahoma Insurance Claims from May Tornadoes Top $1 Billion
OKLAHOMA CITY – Insurance payments from the May tornado outbreak across central Oklahoma have now topped $1 billion.
“These numbers are staggering,” said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak. “We’ve topped $1 billion in payments and the rebuilding is just beginning. We expected to see these amounts and they continue to go up every week. This is a major catastrophe that’s impacted thousands of Oklahomans. Some survivors are still dealing with insurance and rebuilding issues. We can’t fix everything overnight, but we will be here for them until the last claim is paid.”
Oklahomans have filed nearly 91,000 claims since May 19th, but some are still dealing with unresolved insurance claims, which is not uncommon three to four months after a large-scale disaster. The Oklahoma Insurance Department is hosting a recovery assistance event to help address those issues. The Recovery Roundup will be held Saturday, Aug. 17, at Southmoore High School from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Commissioner Doak has requested that all major insurance companies send several representatives to the event to meet with policyholders and address any unresolved claims or concerns. Oklahoma Emergency Management, FEMA and officials from the cities of Moore and Oklahoma City will also be available to answer questions about debris removal, permits and other rebuilding issues.
OID experts at the Recovery Roundup can help consumers with issues relating to all types of insurance, including homeowners, auto, commercial property, life and health. OID help is also available by calling 1-800-522-0071.
DEVELOPING: Multiple casualties are reported after at least two explosions were heard near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, according to the Boston Herald.
Witnesses reportedly heard two booms that sounded like two claps of thunder near the finish line inside the Fairmount Copley Plaza Hotel.
The explosions occurred just before 3 p.m. Video of the scene showed a number of emergency crews in the area tending to victims and blood on the ground near the finish line.
"I saw two explosions. The first one was beyond the finish line. I heard a loud bang and I saw smoke rising," Boston Herald reporter Chris Cassidy, who was running in the marathon, told the newspaper. "I kept running and I heard behind me a loud bang. It looked like it was in a trash can or something...There are people who have been hit with debris, people with bloody foreheads.”
A photographer with Fox affiliate WFXT reported seeing a number of victims with lost limbs.
Competitors and race organizers were crying as they fled the chaos. Bloody spectators were being carried to the medical tent that had been set up to care for fatigued runners.
"There are a lot of people down," said one man, whose bib No. 17528 identified him as Frank Deruyter of North Carolina. He was not injured, but marathon workers were carrying one woman, who did not appear to be a runner, to the medical area as blood gushed from her leg. A Boston police officer was wheeled from the course with a leg injury that was bleeding.
About three hours after the winners crossed the line, there was a loud explosion on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the photo bridge that marks the finish line. Another thunderous explosion could be heard a few seconds later.
Runner Laura McLean of Toronto said she heard two explosions outside the medical tent.
"There are people who are really, really bloody," McLean said. "They were pulling them into the medical tent."
Cherie Falgoust was waiting for her husband, who was running the race. "I was expecting my husband any minute," she said. "I don't know what this building is ... it just blew. Just a big bomb, a loud boom, and then glass everywhere. Something hit my head. I don't know what it was. I just ducked."