OSRC told to halt probe of dam in Adair County
Ed Fite, Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission director, received word Friday to cease and desist any investigation into who built the illegal dam on Barren Fork Creek in Adair County because it is not in OSRC's jurisdiction.
"First Assistant Attorney General Tom Gruber cautioned me and my agency we're not to be involved," Fite said. "Gruber was short, exacting and very stern. I've been given a clear directive."
The admonition came after OSRC Chairman Rick Stubblefield told the Phoenix earlier Friday that OSRC had affidavits and taped statements from witnesses as to who was involved in the building of the dam in question.
Someone who lives along the river complained to OSRC on July 4 that a large bulldozer was in the river, Fite said. Regulators with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality visited the dam site, which they learned was constructed by July 10.
DEQ sent notice of violation letters to Adair County Commissioner Sam Chandler and Westville landowner Darryl Cates about the dam last week, saying it needed to be removed.
Stubblefield said Friday that the Attorney General's Office had twice stopped DEQ investigators from going back to Adair County to further investigate and interview witnesses who gave affidavits about who was responsible for the dam.
"I am outraged on a personal level and as chairman of the OSRC," Stubblefield said.
DEQ spokeswoman Monty Elder and Attorney General spokesman Charlie Price emphatically denied the Attorney General's Office had stopped DEQ investigators from going back to Adair County and interviewing witnesses.
The DEQ is working with the Attorney General's Office and other agencies to address the situation, Elder said.
"We're investigating this thing," Price said. "We did not stop DEQ from investigating. We agree with DEQ, and we decided we should assist the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The EPA is taking the lead, because the feds have stiffer penalties than we do."
The Attorney General's Office has known about the illegal dam for 38 days, Stubblefield said.
A similar situation of a smaller illegal dam on the Barren Fork in Cherokee County, where the OSRC does have jurisdiction, was resolved in a day, Stubblefield said.
"The responsible parties (members of the Wauhillia Club in Cherokee County) have said: 'We did this and it was a mistake and how do we rectify this?'" Stubblefield said.
"It wouldn't make any difference if every official in the state was a member of the Wauhillau Club."
The building of the dam in Adair County was no mistake "and I'm personally satisfied we could get indictments before any grand jury," Stubblefield said early Friday.
EPA officials in Texas responsible for this area could not be reached for comment late Friday.
You can reach reporter Donna Hales at 684-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published August 13, 2005