Once Upon A Time at GRDA: A look a the history of the GRDA Board

Power for Progress…
A weekly column from the Grand River Dam Authority

Throughout its 75-year history, the Grand River Dam Authority has been guided by a board of directors representing broad interests across Oklahoma.

In this 1940s era photo, early-day GRDA officials pose with an aerial photo of the newly-constructed Pensacola Dam. Throughout GRDA’s history, members of the Authority’s governing board have helped to oversee construction and development of key GRDA assets such as the dams and GRDA Coal Fired Complex.

That original board was comprised of members appointed by the Oklahoma Governor, Oklahoma Attorney General and Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor. The first members began their board service in May 1935, one month after the Oklahoma Legislature created GRDA. J. Howard Langley, an attorney from Pryor, Oklahoma, was the first chairman; serving in that post until his passing in October 1935. E. H. Lightner, an ice plant owner from Claremore, succeeded Langley and served as chairman until August 1937.  Ray McNaughton, a banker/attorney from Miami, followed Lightner, serving as chairman until August 1941.

W.R. Holway, longtime GRDA consulting engineer, chronicled much of the early board activities in his book, A History of the Grand River Dam Authority, 1935-1968. While Pensacola Dam was being constructed Holway recalled that “Board members as a whole during this period were very cooperative with us. They never failed to approve plans and specifications for construction of the necessary Change Orders as the work progressed . . . .”

That would need to be a common theme over the years as the board made many major decisions affecting GRDA growth and development which, in turn, affected the entire region. “As each one became proud of the scope of the Authority,” Holway also wrote of the board members, “his vision deepened and policy was decided from a broader outlook.”

That broad outlook was necessary when GRDA was building generation assets and power lines during its first half century. From the many decisions and obstacles surrounding the construction of Pensacola and Robert S. Kerr dams to the decision to build an “experimental” Salina Pumped Storage Project in the late 1960s, board members have said “yea” or “nay” on some very memorable issues. In the mid 1970s, the board was instrumental in a push to construct the GRDA Coal Fired Complex; a decision which essentially doubled the utility from a small producer of hydroelectric power in Northeast Oklahoma to a major supplier of electricity across the region.

GRDA is governed by a seven-member board of directors comprised of representatives from each GRDA customer class (municipals, electric cooperatives and industrials) as well as the GRDA lakes area. Two at-large representatives also sit on the board. Appointments are made by the Oklahoma Governor (3), Speaker of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives and President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate. Two other board positions are ex-officio positions, filled by the general manager of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) and executive director of the Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma (MESO) or by their designees.

Board members serve staggered, seven-year terms, with one position opening each year, to ensure continuity. Customer representation on the Board is characteristic of GRDA’s status as a customer-owned, customer-controlled public power entity. Board meetings are on the second Wednesday of each month and open to the public.
Headquartered in Vinita, GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. Directly or indirectly, GRDA’s low-cost, reliable; electricity serves nearly 500,000 homes in Oklahoma and stretches into 75 of 77 counties in the state. At no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers, GRDA also manages 70,000 surface acres of lakes in the state, including Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and the W.R. Holway Reservoir. Today, GRDA’s 500 employees continue to produce the same “power for progress” that has benefited the state for 75 years.

              –  Justin Alberty
              GRDA Corporate Communications Director

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