County officials await word on fairgrounds’ water

Authority votes 2-1 to send letter of intent to El Reno officials; annexation proposal debated

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This drawing provided by the architectural firm Populus shows the future Canadian County fairgrounds/expo center at Jensen and Alfadale roads east of El Reno. County officials are trying to hammer out an agreement with the City of El Reno and Banner’s rural water authority to provide water to the site. (Image provided)

By Conrad Dudderar

Senior Staff Writer

A Canadian County trust authority has given El Reno city leaders 30 days to respond to a letter of intent about who will supply water for the new county fairgrounds.

As part of a proposed arrangement, the City of El Reno would annex the 50-acre property once the first phase of the fairgrounds’ project is finished – a plan that one county commissioner opposes.

If a formal agreement is made, Canadian County would pay $150,000 toward the cost of a water line extension – which the same commissioner also is against.

Canadian County is preparing to start construction of an estimated $15.8 million phase one of its fairgrounds/expo center project at Jensen and Alfadale roads south of Interstate 40. The site is in an unincorporated area just east of El Reno.

Canadian County Commission Chairman Marc Hader

Lingo Construction is construction manager for this first phase, which has been designed to feature two indoor facilities with office space and an open-air stall barn. Proceeds from the county’s use tax are “coming in at a pretty good rate” to fund the project, County Commission Chairman Marc Hader said.

Canadian County Commissioners, convening March 17 as trustees of the Canadian County Public Facilities Authority, voted 2-1 to approve the letter of intent to El Reno Mayor Matt White and the El Reno City Council.

The letter cites trustees’ appreciation “for the joint commitment and lawful agreement by the Canadian County Water Authority and the City of El Reno to fully supply the required water needs of the fairgrounds/expo center facility.” The Canadian County Water Authority is also known as the Banner rural water district.

“Our desire – and our hope – is that this will be for all water needs, including fire suppression,” Chairman Hader said after the meeting.

The City of El Reno is constructing a 12-inch waterline to loop with existing infrastructure to serve new commercial developments near I-40 and Highway 81. This loop will cost an estimated $750,000.

“In light of the significant cost, the Canadian County Public Facilities Authority would like to offer to participate in the cost of extending the City’s 12-inch waterline to the fairgrounds project for the purpose of meeting fire suppression needs,” according to the letter of intent signed by Chairman Hader.

The document refers to the public facilities authority’s willingness to “contribute” $150,000 toward the cost of this waterline extension near the future fairgrounds’ site.

“We’re offering to pitch in to help offset the cost,” said Hader, the District 1 commissioner.

The public facilities authority “will not object to the annexation of the fairgrounds project” into El Reno corporate limits after phase one construction is complete, the letter of intent reads.

Canadian County’s architects and engineers are designing the new county fairgrounds/expo center to comply with El Reno’s building codes and are submitting plans and specifications for review by City inspectors and the fire marshal.

County officials are committed to design the new fairgrounds’ facilities in accordance with El Reno’s city codes, Hader said.

The letter of intent, dated March 17, closes with this sentence: “The Canadian County Public Facilities Authority humbly asks for a reply within 30 days so that we can move forward as planned or make alternate plans.”

STEWART: I DON’T THINK SO

District 3 County Commissioner Jack Stewart

District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart cast the lone dissenting vote to send the letter of intent to City of El Reno officials.

Commissioner Stewart said the letter’s first draft “didn’t have enough ‘teeth’ for El Reno to perform in a timely manner.”

Chairman Hader replied that this was a “basic letter of intent” and attorneys for the city and county would “hammer out details” in a final formal agreement.

Commissioner Stewart wants to wait until all phases of the fairgrounds’ construction project is finished (not just phase one) before having the site annexed by the City of El Reno.

Stewart also is opposed to Canadian County contributing $150,000 toward the waterline extension. He didn’t want to go any higher than $75,000.

“El Reno wasn’t requesting anything,” Stewart said. “Why so high?

“I’m not comfortable with the amount.”

Furthermore, the three-term District 3 commissioner has been exploring the option of Canadian County connecting to the Banner water district’s existing waterline two miles to the south of the fairgrounds’ site. He believes this would cost $250,000-$300,000.

Under Stewart’s proposal, Canadian County would own the waterline for the first 10 years – and the county would not be under the City of El Reno’s control.

“What is the advantage of being annexed?” Commissioner Stewart said after the meeting. “I don’t want to be locked down if we don’t have to be locked down.

“After the entire fairgrounds’ project is finished and El Reno initiates a Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) district, I would see the advantage to both Canadian County and El Reno for the annexation as we work to develop the TIF district. I want to continue the positive, cooperative relationship with El Reno as we move ahead on this very important project.”

It is now up to El Reno city leaders to act on the county trust authority’s letter of intent.

This is a decision that District 2 Commissioner Dave Anderson wants the El Reno City Council “as a whole” to make. Anderson said he wanted to limit the county’s cost, first suggesting a $200,000 contribution before agreeing to $150,000.

The District 2 commissioner believes this would be considerably less than Stewart’s proposal to have the county connect directly to the Banner rural water district supply.