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[Archived] Second illegal dam on Barren Fork reported

| LAWSUITS | April 21, 2017


By Donna Hales 
Phoenix Staff Writer


A second illegal dam on Barren Fork Creek, this one in Cherokee County, has been reported to officials and will have to be removed, along with a dam on the Barren Fork in Adair County, officials said Thursday.


The Wauhilla Club, a private club since 1902 that owns 215 acres in common on both sides of the Barren Fork in Cherokee County, is responsible for the smaller dam. The dam is about 80 or 100 feet long and 3 to 4 feet tall, and is about 200 yards upstream from an 80-year-old swinging bridge on the creek, said Ed Fite, director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.


Fifty-eight families belong to the Wauhilla Club. Individual club members own 51 cabins on the property, said Muskogee businessman Andy Anderson, a Wauhilla Club board member.


Fite said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had given the club oral permission to stabilize the swinging bridge, which it did with riprap and dirt work. The club then built the dam, which is a violation, to deflect the flow of water 50 or 75 feet west of the bridge, taking some of the pressure off the bridge, Fite said.


"That material is going to have to be removed, but not the (material) used to stabilize the bridge," Fite said.


Fite said he talked with Anderson, who oversaw the work on the site in Cherokee County.


"He may have misinterpreted how to stabilize the footing of the bridge," Fite said. "The problem is upstream of the bridge and is a small diversion dam to deflect the water from the work site - they were running out of daylight and didn't clean up their mess."


The OSRC is responsible for the Barren Fork in Cherokee County and has notified all regulators about the problem, Fite said.


The difference between the two situations is that in Cherokee County the Wauhilla Club has said it is responsible and is ready to do "whatever we need to do," Fite said. No one in Adair County is taking responsibility for the work done there.


Anderson confirmed that the club will do what it needs to do, saying he already has an appointment with the Environmental Protection Agency to address the issue.


"We did something wrong, but wouldn't intentionally do anything to hurt the Barren Fork - it's the lifeblood of the club," Anderson said.


Dammed creek in Adair Co. now investigated by EPA


The Corps has deemed the construction of the dam in Adair County to be a violation of the Clean Water Act. The Corps has referred the problem to the Environmental Protection Agency.


"We've had two witnesses come forward (Thursday) who are willing to testify they know who built the dam and who paid to have it built," Fite said Thursday. "We'll reveal those names (today)."


Fite first got a complaint a bulldozer was in the creek on July 4, but the actual building of the 420-foot, 6- to 8-foot high dam, occurred on July 10, he said.


Fines could reach as high as $35,000 per day as long as the dam is in place, Fite said. The person responsible for building that dam is the person the EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality want to talk to, Fite said.


"DEQ is making that a No. 1 priority," Fite said.


DEQ mailed violation letters to two individuals in Adair County. The contents of the letters and the names of the individuals cannot be made public until DEQ receives notification the certified letters were received, said DEQ spokeswoman Monty Elder.


Darryl Cates, who at first said there was no dam on the Barren Fork in Adair County and then later said he could see it from his property, was first identified by regulators as owning the land where the dam is located. But upon closer inspection of property records, it was decided that the absentee and elderly landowners, Della Laughlin and her brother Haskell Whitmire, live in Tulsa County and have not visited the property in some time and knew nothing about the dam, Fite said.


"They have granted oral permission for access to the property and said the dam can be taken out," Fite said.


You can reach reporter Donna Hales at 684-2923 or dhales@muskogeephoenix.com.


Originally published August 5, 2005