Agency names two suspects in dam construction
By Teddye Snell, Press Staff Writer
Monday, August 8, 2005 10:58 AM CDT
BARREN FORK -- Two Adair County men are accused of building an illegal dam on Barren Fork Creek, according to a report released by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
The report named Adair County Commissioner Sam Chandler and Westville rancher Darryl Cates as the alleged violators involved in building the dam on Barren Fork Creek in eastern Adair County.
The DEQ sent certified notices of violation to both Chandler and Cates, giving them 15 days to repair the scenic creek to its original condition. Both deny involvement in the dam's construction.
"Cates had the dam constructed with full knowledge of Mr. Chandler," the DEQ notice read.
Cates' owns 450 acres in the Barren Fork area upstream of the Christie Bridge, where a 1,500-foot long gravel road pushes into the dam, which is more than 420 feet long and stands 6-8 feet in height. Over 500 cubic yards of gravel were used to build the dam. Cates home is about two miles away from the site.
Both parties denied the existence of any such dam, and later acknowledged the dam was there, but said they had nothing to do with its construction.
Ed Fite, administrator for the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, has no jurisdiction in the Adair County portion of Barren Fork, but has been working closely with state and federal officials to provide information. Fite received the initial citizen complaint about the dam during the July 4 weekend.
Fite and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited the dam site and feared stagnant water would influence wildlife if the dam was not torn down, an issue Chandler dismissed.
"That creek has too much gravel, anyway," said Chandler in an earlier report. "There's more water running beneath the gravel than over it. Little diversions like the one constructed can only help with the flow."
According to spokeswoman Monty Elder, the DEQ is continuing its investigation, as are several other state agencies, including the OSRC.
"We have spent a considerable amount of time trying to determine who the responsible party was for the dam and why it was built," said Fite. "We have received a number of anonymous complaints indicating Mr. Cates. We also now have three witnesses willing to testify in court that Cates is the party responsible."
According to the notice of violation issued by the DEQ, violators could be fined $10,000 per day for every day they go beyond the 15-day remediation deadline without action.
Fite said, after receiving assurances last week from Chandler that he would help the investigation in any way possible, several calls to Chandler from Fite have gone unreturned.
"I'm very concerned about the amount of name-calling going on," said Fite. "Chandler contacted me and told me he'd be willing to help in any way possible, however, this is day 33 of the investigation and my recent phone calls [to Chandler] have not been returned."
Fite said Cates and Chandler are not being singled out for violations.
"To get right down to it, all of this began a little over a year and half ago with an instance of gravel mining by Hoby Ferrell in the Chewey area," said Fite. "State and federal agencies became concerned and have found and fined a number of illegal gravel mining and dirt work operations since then, with little to no notoriety. I'm concerned the residents in the area feel like we're chasing these two [Cates and Chandler] solely for the purpose of fine money, and that's not it at all."
Fite said considering the cooperation state and federal agencies have received in the past when concerns of this nature have arisen "we should have easily been able to discern who the people involved in the Adair County flap involved, and it should have been dealt with without drawing all of this media attention."
Fite also reiterated the fact the second dam operation at the Wauhilla Club in Cherokee County had been resolved within less than a week. The private recreational club received a verbal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year to stabilize a 75-year-old bridge compromised by flooding.
To gain access to the area, the club also built an illegal dam 200 yards from the bridge, which went beyond the original verbal agreement. Rick Stubblefield, chairman of the OSRC, said the culprit, Andy Anderson, has acknowledged the mistake and plans to repair the damage.
Fite has also visited with Anderson.
"Andy Anderson came forward last Wednesday evening to claim responsibility, and will meet with state agency representatives at the site on Monday to ascertain what needs to be done to properly remedy the situation," said Fite.
According to an AP report, Chandler sharply criticized the state agencies accusing him of supporting the dam's construction without asking him about it first. He has also, on more than one occasion, criticized the OSRC and the Corps for mismanaging the scenic creek.
"If this creek is managed by the Corps of Engineers and the Scenic Rivers Commission for another 20 years, there won't be a creek left," Chandler said. "This creek has deteriorated every day since they turned it over and it's a shame this has to happen to a creek as beautiful as Barren Fork. I was born on that creek and I know what I'm talking about."
OSRC has no jurisdiction over the Adair County portion of Barren Fork Creek, and that Fite only became involved at the behest of state and federal agencies.
Fite said he was not in the business of character assassination.
"I'm not 'out to get' anyone," said Fite. "I flew the length of Barren Fork Creek Friday and, from that vantage point, you can see 100 square miles of land."
Fite said he asked his pilot and a photographer who was with him what they saw when they looked out the window.
"After receiving no response, I told the two that, of that 100-square miles, there was not one mile that had not been touched by the impact of humanity."
Fite said to sustain our economy and environment, people need to be aware of the impact they have simply by the nature of human and economic growth.
"The interest agencies like the OSRC, the DEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have is not in raising money," said Fite. "It's in protecting places like Barren Fork, the Illinois River and its watersheds for this generation and generations to come."
Fite also issued a public challenge to Chandler.
"The notice of violation sent to Chandler and Cates merely alleges they are the responsible parties in the dam," said Fite. "Since guilt has not yet been determined, the state is going to have to spend the money to have the dam taken down. In the spirit of cooperation, I would like to see Commissioner Chandler work with the state in the deconstruction by volunteering county equipment to remove the dam. It would serve the greater good, and Adair County would benefit by being able to keep the gravel removed from the site."