State and federal agencies are investigating a 422.4-foot-long earthen-and-gravel dam on Barren Fork Creek built without necessary permits and stopping the flow of the creek.
"The Barren Fork is dammed up - it is no longer a free-flowing creek. Scum and algae are forming on the upside of the dam," Sean Charlton, a regulator with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Thursday.
Charlton viewed the site earlier with Ed Fite, director of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, and water quality regulators with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Fite said they went to the site after getting a complaint of bulldozing in the stream.
Charlton and Fite said they fear stagnant water will influence a fish kill soon if the dam is not breached.
"O.S. 82 (state law) prohibits construction of any dam on a scenic river," Fite said.
While the OSRC hasn't had oversight of the Barren Fork in Adair County for some time, the DEQ and the Attorney General's Office are looking into the matter, Fite said.
"We're currently sending out cease-and-desist letters to adjoining property owners and trying to get to the bottom of what's going on," Corps spokesman Ed Engelke said. "We don't know who did the work. We're doing an investigation."
DEQ media spokeswoman Monty Elder said the agency is investigating whether it should take enforcement action.
"There clearly is an earthen dam diverting the flow of water on the Barren Fork," she said.
Builder of dam could face $25,000 a day fine
Adair County court records reflect a 1,584-foot road bulldozed into the site comes from property belonging to Darryl Cates and the dam and road were built without a 404 Clean Water Permit, Engelke said.
"It doesn't lead from my property," Cates told the Phoenix after first saying there was no dam in the creek. Later, he said he could see the top of the dam from his property. Cates said he owns 450 acres in the vicinity.
Engelke said the investigation will entail who owns the land and who built the dam and road.
"Under the (federal) Clean Water Act, anyone doing construction within managed waters has to go through the permitting process," Engelke said. "This structure has not received that authorization."
Although the dam is already constructed, a 404 Clean Water Permit application can be filed, Engelke said. "But they have to stop what they're doing and apply for a permit."
In some instances the work could be authorized, Engelke said.
"In this instance, the fact it occurred in high quality waters, it is more likely that it will have to be removed at the expense of the person who did the work."
Violating the Clean Water Act calls for fines of $25,000 per day. The fine starts from the day they're told they have to remove it, Engelke said.
Regulators say dam could cause fish kill
Fite e-mailed Attorney General Drew Edmondson and others last week that he had "inspected probably the worst direct degradation impact to an Oklahoma-designated Scenic River Area ever observed."
The dam is 6- to 8-feet high across the main stream portion of the Barren Fork, Fite said.
"The dam appears to have been built for the purpose of influencing the creek to be diverted into an old stream bed," Fite said.
There is water "trickling" through the dam to the main stream channel, but on the upstream side, the water is pooling and algae growth is "rampant," Fite said.
Fite estimated that gravel was borrowed from the stream over an area 600 feet long and anywhere from 50 feet to 200 feet in width and 2 to 4 feet in depth.
"I had heard that some of my neighbors said that I had dammed the creek," Cates said. "I don't know anything about it. I've got kind of an access problem down here in that the only way I can get up there is on a 4-wheeler."
Engelke said when a Corps regulator talked with Cates earlier that Cates suggested the regulator talk with District 2 Adair County Commissioner Sam Chandler.
Cates said Chandler owns 100 acres divided by Barren Fork Creek, below the Falls.
Cates said he wasn't inferring to the Corps regulator that Chandler built the dam or the road.
"Sam ain't no dummy," Cates said. "It would take a dummy to do something like that (build the dam and road). Sam Chandler is a long ways from a dummy."
When Cates was told regulators got complaints of a huge bulldozer on Cates' property near the new road, Cates said: "Hasn't been a bulldozer come through my place."
County Commissioner says work done insignificant
Chandler said he went to the site Sunday "to see what somebody had done" after he got calls about the alleged dam.
"This don't amount to anything - it's a piss-ant (insignificant) site," Chandler said, denying the construction amounted to a dam over the Barren Fork. "It's not damaging that creek."
Chandler said he got a phone message from a Corps regulator and tried to call him back but hadn't talked with him as of Thursday.
Fite said the dam and road "is a very serious matter ... nobody communicated with anybody. It was reported to us by folks living in the area. Barren Fork Creek has been impounded.
"There is a low flow. It is impacted downstream and upstream."
Rick Stubblefield, chairman of the OSRC and the Adair County elected representative to the agency said: "This is so out of bounds."
You can reach reporter Donna Hales at 684-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 29, 2005