TAHLEQUAH—OSRC Chairman Rick Stubblefield named a subcommittee to address the problem of illegal dredging and damming of Scenic Rivers. The Watershed Coordination and Management Sub Committee will develop ways to fund stream bank stabilization and avenues of communication with landowners about the permitting process needed to remove gravel from the Illinois River, Flint Creek, and Barren Fork Creek.
The action comes on the heels of three new gravel-taking incidents on Flint Creek in Delaware County and two illegal dams on Barren Fork in Adair and Cherokee Counties.
A resolution passed by the Commission requests that state and federal agencies “defend Oklahoma scenic streams from nonpermitted dredging, damming, gravel mining or any other nonpermitted projects by levying significant fines against responsible parties.”
Commission Vice Chairman Gerald Hilsher of Tulsa said, “We need a message that we don’t want some easy consent order, or fine, or excuse (by land owners) that: it’s my property.”
Several concerned Barren Fork residents attended the meeting and thanked the Commission for its attention to the recent infractions. Three people from Southern Oklahoma were at the meeting to tell the OSRC about their experiences opposing a gravel mine in a sensitive area of the Red River. “Don’t assume state agencies are communicating with each other on this problem,” they warned.
Asked by an audience member how the Barren Fork in Adair County could be brought back under the jurisdiction of the OSRC, Chairman Stubblefield said that would be up to the Oklahoma Legislature.
Commissioners heard a presentation from Dr. Kim Winton of the U.S.G.S. about bacteria and the possibility of developing an early warning system for recreation on Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. “Some types of E. coli bacteria are very dangerous and can cause death,” she said. An especially dangerous bacterium called 0157.H7 causes 73,000 cases of illness and 61 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Dr. Winton said both the Illinois River at Tahlequah and the Barren Fork at Eldon had experienced bacteria counts that would warrant a public warning for primary contact recreation. She said there is a strong relationship with turbidity and bacteria and a “surrogate relationship" could be built to warn the public. Concerned citizens could possibly look at information on the web and determine if they wanted to risk getting in streams. (See Kansas U.S.G.S. web site for some of this type of information.)
The U.S.G.S. has been forced to discontinue testing for bacteria due to budget cuts. Previously, samples were taken for E. coli, streptococci, and fecal coliform bacteria.
“I’m very concerned with levels of bacteria coming down the (Illinois) River and the high levels of phosphorus from chicken litter,” Commissioner Hilsher said. “It is important to the tourism industry that we tell people about the danger,” he said, adding that funds should be found for sampling and analysis.
In addition to polluting phosphorus, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson has cited the dangers of other contaminants in chicken waste entering eastern Oklahoma streams and lakes. These include arsenic, copper, zinc, disease-causing bacteria, growth hormones, and antibiotics that lower human resistance to disease.
Commissioners heard a presentation by Ken Stamper who is developing a chicken litter-to-energy facility near Kansas, Oklahoma. The U.S.E.P.A., Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the Arkansas Poultry Federation fund the demonstration project. The project would have “a very positive impact on the watershed,” Stamper said. In the initial phase of the project, 10,000 tons of poultry waste will be processed to produce heat and fertilizers.
Concerns have been raised by area residents about waste from the facility damaging the environment. Stamper assured the commission that waste products from the experimental process, including water, gasses, and solids will not damage the environment. Storm water will be collected and either used in the process or land applied. “There will be no discharge from the site,” Stamper assured.
Industrial waste cannot be land applied in Oklahoma Scenic River basins and whether or not stormwater from the site is an industrial waste remains to be determined.
The facility is now in the permitting stage by ODEQ.
The Commission voted to refer to an Administrative Law Judge a dispute over user fee remittance by Jack Spears, owner of Arrowhead Camp. At question is about $2,200 the OSRC says it is owed.