Directors of Circuit Engineering District No. 7 tried to give the Lawter Road project at Weatherford a jump start Tuesday with a 24-minute discussion behind closed doors with the public and press barred.
After the executive session ended, Custer County delegate Wade Anders made a motion “to approve acquisition of right-of-way and construction on Lawter Road subject to availability of funds.” It was seconded by Kirk Butler of Jackson County and approved by a 9-0 vote. (Two of the board’s 11 members were not present.)
At an estimated $6 million a year ago, the Lawter Road project is one of CED 7’s bigger ones and has been stalled for some time. It’s a two-mile stretch of roadway along the north edge of Weatherford. On the district’s 2018 five-year plan, it was delayed until 2021.
The inability of the district to secure the necessary right-of-way has been mentioned from time to time at other meetings as a principal reason for the holdup. A lot of that apparently has to do with rising land prices around Weatherford in the wake of its fast growth.
Following Tuesday’s short meeting, Board Chairman Joe Don Dickey of Frederick and Tillman County told the Clinton Daily News the executive session was necessary because “we needed our attorney to clarify the legality of where we were going.” He said the discussion and the vote should “allow our staff to proceed with acquiring right-of-way so the project can move forward.”
While stating that the road is still “quite a ways down the pipeline,” Dickey said Tuesday’s vote was necessary because “we need our people to get with the people and have a better dialogue.” The latter people were apparently those who own the land that’s needed for right-of-way.
This was an attempt “to get us off high center,” said Dickey.
“I hope the dialogue will be better (in the wake of Tuesday’s meeting) between our right-of-way coordinator and the private sector,” he added. “It takes communication between the people involved (at CED 7) and the private sector.
“A lot of people want it built,” he concluded. “It’s going to get built.”
The lawyer the board conferred with was Stephen McCaleb from the Oklahoma City law firm of Derryberry & Naifeh. He was hired in 2017 as board attorney after one employee allegedly admitted embezzling money from the district.
Asked how much of the necessary right-of-way has already been acquired, Dickey estimated 30 to 40 percent. He guessed what’s left is still over 50 percent.