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Shawnee News Star - Government Hold-Up

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Location: Unknown

By Carmen Bourlon and Kory B. Oswald

The federal government is holding up the development of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Shawnee, but the government's position could be a deal-breaker for the project, developer Warren Thomas said Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has essentially turned down the development proposal because the project could change the hydrology of the area the company wants to develop, Thomas, who owns the property, said.

If Chick-fil-A cannot secure the 1-acre parcel of land at 4627 N. Kickapoo, they will not open a store in Shawnee. FEMA's position could delay the project by almost a year, Thomas said.

"This is a deal-killer," Thomas said. "I can tell you there won't be a Chick-fil-A project if we are looking at an alternative of nine months to a year."

Representative James Lankford (R-OK) visited Shawnee Thursday to support Thomas and address concerns that FEMA has not allowed the project to move forward, nor has the agency accepted invitations from the congressman or Thomas to visit the site.

"This has been delayed a very long time. This is a prime example of red tape in the federal government," Lankford said. "Come on. This is a fast-food restaurant; this should not be rocket science to get this finished. Let's get this accomplished."

Lankford's office has called and held meetings with FEMA officials to try to move the project forward, he said. A representative from Senator James Inhofe's office, (R-OK), was also present Thursday. Inhofe sent a letter to FEMA on behalf of Thomas but has not had an official response from the agency, Brain Hackler, a field rep for Inhofe, said.

The prospective site of the restaurant sits on a 152 acre flood basin, Thomas said. There are concerns that this area is subject to flooding because it slopes and lies just south and west of a creek where rain water collects. FEMA has not yet said if this location is viable for a restaurant due to flooding concerns, and requested Thomas do a hydrology study to assess the viability of this plan. However, a hydrology study was completed in 2006, Thomas said.

Requiring the developers to conduct redundant studies would amount to bureaucratic obstructionism, needlessly increasing costs and delaying the project, Lankford said.

"That doesn't help anybody," he said.

FEMA has not responded to any attempts by Thomas, Lankford or Inhofe's office to move forward with the project, according to those involved.

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