After years of work, the Schuler Development seems to moving forward, and drew the interest of 60 to 70 area residents and officials at a public meeting on Tuesday.

After years of work, the Schuler Development seems to moving forward, and drew the interest of 60 to 70 area residents and officials at a public meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting, which was hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was a chance for residents to learn more about the related Environmental Impact Statement and the process of public comment on the draft document.

The development, a high-end planned development for the north side of Denison along the east side of the Little Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma, has been in the works for more than a decade. Much of the private land has already been purchased for the project, but all the shoreline is federally-owned.

However, in 2007, Congress passed the Water Resource Development Act mandating the sale of the land to the city of Denison. The city will then in turn sale the land to a developer.

“Our ability to assist (George Schuler) in getting this Corps property is just going to enhance the value of the overall project, which means a broader tax base,” said Denison Mayor Robert Brady at Tuesday’s meeting. “I view it as a positive.”

Still the sale was not a done deal with the passage of the WRDA. A 1969 law, the National Environmental Policy Act requires the Corps, which manages the lake, to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the impacts the development will have on everything from the scenic view to wildlife and water quality.

The 591-page draft of that document was released for public comment on Oct. 30, and Tuesday’s meeting was a chance for residents to ask question about the document.

“What we’re asking for is public comments and what we do is, once we get comments from folks, all of those comments will be attached to the final EIS and in addition, we will address or answer all of those comments,” said Stephen Nolen, chief of the Environmental Analysis and Compliance Branch for the Corps’ Tulsa District.

In the draft the proposed action is to convey the property, including the shoreline with a deed restriction prohibiting the construction of habitable structures below the highest elevation of the flood pool. This would allow the lake to still be used effectively for flood control. Additionally, a 2005 moratorium on private boat docks would be lifted for that section of land and the Shoreline Management Plan would be modified to allow construction.

The proposed alternative is the least restrictive of the four alternative listed in the EIS. Still the final action depends on the comments the Corps receives.

Nolen explained that even though Congress mandated the transfer of the land, it entrusted the Secretary of the Army to set “additional terms and conditions as the Secretary considers appropriate and necessary to protect the interests of the United States,” states the act.

Nolen said that’s why the process and the comments are important. Many at Tuesday’s meeting offered their thoughts.

“I just think this will be a positive thing for the area,” said David Owens, a resident of Denison, in a brief interview. “It make us a more attractive area for us to attract employees, it just adds a little spice to the area, if you will, to make the area more attractive for other industries.”

Rod and Peggy Virnelson, who live north of Pottsboro along the shore of Little Mineral Arm and directly across the from the develop, had a differing opinion.

“I think the people of Denison have been sold a piece of goods,” Peggy Virnelson said in an interview.

The Virnelsons expressed concern about the development’s impact on their view, the noise it may create, the trash from the additional residents, the boat traffic, a lack of sufficient infrastructure for the influx of people and the impact on water quality from run-off of pesticides and fertilizer.

Nolen said comments, both in favor and against the project, are important to the process. “It’s possible we’ve forgotten something; we didn’t get something right; we need to change something,” he said. “So that’s what we’re looking for is those type of comments that would actually allow us to have a better document, a better analysis.”

Comments will be accepted until Dec. 21, and will then be analysed and answered in the final EIS. There will then be another 30-day comment period, before the EIS is actually final and a “record of decision” is published.

Nolen said the exact length of this process will depend on the number of comments received, but after years of work, it is still a major milestone for the more than a decade of planning.

“We’re elated,” said Cindy North, project manager for Schuler Development. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Still, a ground breaking isn’t likely to be in the coming months. Once the record of decision is published, if it calls for the sale of the land, a survey and appraisal of the land must be performed before it can be sold to the city. The city will then be free to convey it to the developer.

To review the draft EIS, or the more manageable 16-page executive summery, visit http://www.swt.usace.army.mil/library/LibraryDetail.CFM?ID=658 or review a paper copy at the Denison or Madill public libraries.

Public comments and questions may be submitted by mail to: Mr. Stephen L. Nolen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District, 1645 S. 101st East Ave., ATTN: CESWT-PE-E, Tulsa, OK 74128-4629 or by email to Stephen.L.Nolen@usace.army.mil.