Aquarium's Location Causes Concern

This is part one in a two part Waste Watch investigation into Medicine Park spending. Click here for part two.

Construction started with a groundbreaking in 2011. Almost two years later, there is still not even a foundation for a proposed Aquarium and Natural Sciences Museum built on the side of a mountain in Medicine Park.

Click here for Part 1, Waste Watch: Cougar Cub, Porcupines and Prairie Dogs.

"We've got the retaining walls in the parking lots are in and we're working on infrastructure right now," said Dwight Cope, the mayor of Medicine Park.

Mayor Cope says the project was delayed due the criticism of a former volunteer with the Aquarium and Museum. That former volunteer is Larry Meese who, along with several others, has collected signatures calling for a state audit of the project. "I think it's going to show that we're doing exactly what we're supposed to be doing," Cope told Fox 25.

"They've made some progress, but very little, but that can't be contributed to a slowdown of a few months this is an enormous project," said Meese. He believes the project has been poorly planned and money has been misspent.

One of Meese's concerns was the purchase of animals for the project before appropriate cages or containment facilities were built. One of those animals was a cougar cub that quickly grew to meat-eating handful.

An email from the aquarium volunteer who was housing many of the animals in their home's garage told the mayor and other project leaders, "We do not have the staff to care for these animals." The email went on to say, "The coast alone to provide for these animals which we could purchase a year from now closer to having facilities constructed is prohibitive." However that email did not stop the museum's director from committing to an alligator. That alligator was never taken in by the museum and the other animals were either returned or died, costing the museum thousands of dollars.

"I'm not saying we're perfect and there haven't been mistakes made," Cope said, "But there is nothing mischievous, malicious or anything else." Cope says it has always been his desire to have mammals at the aquarium and he still hopes someday to include animal exhibits, but for now the town will focus on getting the aquarium open.

However some critics of the museum worry the town's chosen location could end up harming the animals it is meant to preserve. The aquarium is under construction the side of a mountain that is next to the artillery range at Fort Sill in Lawton.

"They're fighting a real war out there as if it was a real war and we feel the concussion from that," Meese said. People who live in Medicine Park say they enjoy seeing the explosions and aircraft that come in for bomb tests at the fort; however the concussions have caused cracks in newly built homes. Meese says if his home can feel the effects of the bombs, it could likely injure fish in confined aquariums.

"Fish are very different from other vertebrates," said Dr. Michael Tobler, a fish biologist at Oklahoma State University, "They have specific senses that allow them to sense pressure in the water."

Fish can sense even minor pressure changes, says Dr. Tobler. He demonstrated for Fox 25 how fish startle when the aquarium glass is tapped. However, the fish in Dr. Tobler's lab are accustomed to human interaction.

Fish that are not used to an environment where bombs are being dropped might have a difficult time adjusting. "Their response could be potentially damaging in that in trying to get away from that stimulus very rapidly they could swim into that glass and hurt themselves," Dr. Tobler told Fox 25.

The fish could adapt to the changes in pressure, but Dr. Tobler says he isn't aware of any research that would show how long that would take or if the fish would survive the adjustment period.

Town leaders say the fish in nearby Medicine Creek survive just fine living hear the explosions. Dr. Tobler says fish can become desensitized to pressure waves, but fish in a natural river or creek have much more room to escape pressure waves compared to those in smaller confined environments.

However, Dr. Tobler's main concern for an aquarium built near an area where bombs shake buildings is the physical glass aquariums. He says the aquariums would need to be reinforced to make sure they are not damaged by the artillery range.

"These old cobblestone buildings have been here 100 years," Cope said, "If it's not affected them it's not going to affect an engineered steel building."

Cope says the facility will open by the end of this year. You can view more information about the project by clicking here.

Cope says the current state audit of the project will reveal the town has done nothing wrong. Meese says he hopes the audit will provide appropriate oversight for the entire project.

Click here to view our previous investigations into the Medicine Park Aquarium Project.

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