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[Archived] State agency tells two to remove illegal dam

| News | January 05, 2013

By Penny Cockerell

State correspondent

, which accuses him of having it built with full knowledge of Adair County Commissioner Sam Chandler.

Chandler also received the official notice, which gives the two of them 15 days to repair the creek to its original condition. Both Darryl Cates, the rancher, and Chandler strongly deny any involvement in the dam's construction.

Several state agencies are investigating, including the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, which said it has three witnesses willing to testify in court that Cates was the culprit.

"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 Ed Fite, administrator for the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission. "We have received a number of anonymous complaints implicating Mr. Cates."

Thursday, Fite said, "two witnesses came forward that have firsthand knowledge, who talked with Mr. Cates and Mr. Cates has admitted to them, more than once, that he was responsible for the dam."

Fite said the witnesses, plus six anonymous sources, also told them who owned the bulldozer and did the work and when it was done. Oral and written statements were taken from the three witnesses willing to testify in court, he said.

"It's unfortunate that we're having to go to this extent, where we're having to go to the newspapers. In this case, we feel we have appropriate information to make the allegation," Fite said. "Mr. Chandler, we don't know whether he is involved at this point. It's been alleged but I have no knowledge of that."

Cates owns 450 acres in the Baron Fork area (also known as Barren Fork Creek) upstream of the Christie Bridge, where the dam was built using more than 500 cubic yards of gravel. His home is about two miles away.

"They're just all off base and so I'm not worried about it. Just let them fire their best shot," Cates told The Oklahoman on Friday. "I've already hired an attorney ... if these witnesses are saying that I had anything to do with that, they're either lying or mistaken."

Landowners Haskell Whitmire and his sister, Della Laughlin, own the property where the dam was built. They live in Tulsa and investigators said they had nothing to do with the dam's construction.

In its notice, the Department of Environmental Quality shows that agency investigations "revealed that Respondent Cates had the dam constructed with full knowledge of Mr. Chandler. The construction of the dam was done without knowledge of the property owners."

Chandler points to another dam built by the Wauhillau Outing Club, a private recreational organization that got a verbal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year to stabilize a 75-year-old bridge compromised by flooding.

Friday, Chandler lambasted the state agencies accusing him of supporting the dam's construction without asking him about it first. He also criticized the Scenic Rivers Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 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 Baron Fork Creek. I was born on that creek and I know what I'm talking about."