The Death of OK’s Lake Texoma State Park and the Promises of Privatization

  • Joe Wertz

apermanentwreck / flickr

Lake Texoma State Park was one of Oklahoma’s most popular parks when the state in 2005 agreed to sell it to a private development firm.

State officials were required to create a new public park of equal value to secure the transfer, and the $14.6 million deal closed in 2008.

The company plans to build a $500-million-plus gated retreat of condos, hotels, fancy homes and golf courses. Restaurants, swimming pools, a gym and a spa are going in. The developers are getting tax incentives to do it, too., reports nonprofit journalism outfit InvestigateWest.

Today, neither the private resort or the replacement park have been built.

State officials decided to privatize Lake Texoma to save taxpayers $20 million to $40 million of a $90 million backlog of park maintenance costs, according to the report by Robert McClure.

After years of budget cuts, seven of Oklahoma’s state parks were shuttered in 2011. Officials said the move would save taxpayers $700,000 a year. In the end, five of the parks were transferred to cities; American Indian tribes assumed management of the other two.

InvestigateWest has been examining failures in a National Parks Service provision designed to protect parks that receive federal parks grants. Lake Texoma State Park has received $1.6 million in federal grants, InvestigateWest reports.

The National Park Service oversees such park “conversions,” but lacks adequate controls to ensure that grant recipients follow the law. There’s also no hard deadline for replacing converted parkland, according to the report.

Replacement land is supposed to be purchased immediately or, if that’s not possible, within one year, according to Park Service regulations. The Park Service’s rules also say a fully functioning park must be up and running within three years – but does not spell out penalties if that doesn’t happen.

The development firm that bought Lake Texoma State Park, Pointe Vista Development, has two prominent investors: Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, and Mark Fischer, CEO and Chairman of Chaparral Energy.

The developers are still looking for investors, and the former state park is largely unused, InvestigateWest reports:

The campground continues to limp along, but overall the park looks like a ghost town. A smudge on the earth marks where the 106-room lodge once stood, and the 67 cabins await demolition.

Parks officials told InvestigateWest they were “actively working” to acquire property for the replacement park, and the developer’s plans now hinge on county tax incentives.

In Pointe Vista’s case, the so-called “TIF money” is to be used to offset the costs of building roads, sewers and other necessary “infrastructure” to transform the spare and simple state park into a luxurious high-end resort. It means Marshall County and school districts near the park will give up more than $30 million over the course of 25 years, according to estimates released when the Marshall County Commission approved creation of a tax-increment financing district.