East Norman residents spotted a yellow helicopter flying around the area where proposed toll highways are planned and raised concerns that it was part of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s ongoing studies.
But the helicopter’s tag number is registered with WINCO Inc. The company is working with OG&E, a spokesman for the utility provider said.
“It’s part of our routine to go and inspect the power lines and take a better look at the system to better see what’s going on there,” OG&E spokesman Aaron Cooper said. “There aren’t really any issues, just something we do regularly.”
OTA intends to build two new toll roads in Norman as part of a 15-year, $5 billion long-term program. If built, a toll road will run south of Interstate 40 through the Lake Thunderbird watershed to Purcell, and a second will run along Indian Hills Road.
Resident Michael Ridgeway spotted the helicopter Aug. 15 along 180th Avenue.
“People were worried, and frankly, I was worried,” Ridgeway said. “It seemed to make sense. What really worried me was that they were following one of their paths down the center of a square mile section where there were no power lines. They were flying low and slow between 168th and 180th. I just thought it was a little weird.
Cooper said it had nothing to do with the toll road plans.
“We just do what we do, as we say to keep the system reliable, making sure everything looks the way it should and taking care of anything that doesn’t.”
When asked if OG&E had encountered any problems with the system, Cooper said no.
Randy Carter, spokesman for the opposition group Pike Off OTA, said residents were on high alert.
“I would certainly say that residents are concerned about anything happening on the roads that might have anything to do with the toll roads, as it has created a heightened sense of awareness for those of us on the way” , did he declare.
OTA does not have a contract with the company. While the helicopters aren’t tied to OTA’s plans, the agency occasionally conducts “aerial surveys for our projects,” said agency spokeswoman Brenda Perry Clark.
OTA continues to work on toll road projects despite being barred from issuing revenue bonds to pay for its proposed plans.
“OTA is continuing planned preliminary engineering design and environmental study activities in partnership with regulators to assess the feasibility of the Outer Loop alignments and the southern extension of the tollway,” a- she said in an email. “OTA will pay for these services exclusively from its general fund.”
The Oklahoma Council of Bond Oversight granted conditional approval to the bonds after a lawsuit against the agency was settled or dismissed in favor of OTA.
More than 200 residents filed a lawsuit for violating the Open Meetings Act in May, claiming the agency failed to sufficiently inform the public in its January and February meeting agendas of its plans to expansion of the state toll road system.
OTA filed a request for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to uphold its proposed use of $5 billion in bonds, but trial attorneys have asked the High Court to let their trial proceed first in the Oklahoma court. district.