Thursday, August 18, 2005 9:01 AM CDT
If everyone used the old bromide, "I've always done it that way before" as an excuse for maintaining the status quo on reprehensible behavior, it would be a sorry world indeed.
Under that qualification, women would not be able to leave their homes with their heads uncovered, much less cast a vote. Schools would be segregated, and people of color would be consigned to separate drinking fountains and seats in the back of the bus. Those with noticeable handicaps, if they were allowed to live at all, would suffer the worse sort of public ridicule.
But every time society moves a couple of steps forward in enlightenment or achievement, some medieval "knight in shining armor" always girds himself for battle, and tries to catapult us backward on the road of progress.
It's been said so often that for those who don't need to hear it again, it sounds like a broken record: The Illinois River is a resource worth protecting. The handful of bad apples who DO need to hear it - in an endless loop - aren't listening. That's why someone in an official capacity has to take action to figuratively blow the cobwebs out of their ears.
Back in the '70s, the Illinois River was pristine and swift-flowing. Now, thanks to a variety of factors, the scenic stream is in endangered. Anyone with any sense ought to be able to figure out that whatever we were doing before, we can't do it any longer - or at least we have to do less of it. Activities that are necessarily being restricted or limited include canoeing and boating, the dumping of hog and chicken waste, free runoff of nursery chemicals and cattle dung, and dredging, damming and other projects that reroute or hinder the flow of water.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission is supposed to formulate and promote regulations to curb potentially destructive endeavors, and act as a watchdog. Board members are also property owners in the immediate vicinity of the river and its tributaries, and thus have a personal stake in the habitat's survival. That doesn't mean all commissioners' intentions are beneficent; indeed, some have been agricultural operators who wanted not to protect and preserve, but to self-serve, relaxing the rules to allow them unfettered license to pollute. But in the main, commissioners' interests have struck a balance.
But a few of the "princes" who rule the kingdoms bordering the Illinois River and its tributaries, like the nobility of days gone by, have no qualms about misusing any resource deemed part of their domain. They've always done it that way, after all, and any "serf" who questions their methods or motives will be summarily dismissed - or worse.
The recent flurry of illegal activity - like building dams and mining gravel - stands as stark testament to the cavalier attitude of these people. Even when they're caught red-handed and informed that their little operations will get them slapped with hefty fines, they retort that, by Jove, they're going to do what they darn well please. Just like they always have.
Within the past few days, a few more of these royal scions - Ron Fidler and Kenneth Whitmire among them - have been observed and photographed, flouting the law with their private enterprises. Some of them have been warned repeatedly to cease and desist, but they refuse. Hey, don't those environmental types who want to preserve the river realize that's how things have always been done?
These men and other property owners along the river are entitled to protect their own land from erosion, and to use their own land within the boundaries of the law, for profit or otherwise. What they don't have the right to do is continue engaging in activities that impose further harm on the river. They don't own the river itself; it's not part of their royal realm.
The Department of Environmental Quality, the Attorney General's Office and other agencies are supposed to be investigating these and other cases of unlawful use of the river and its accouterments. And as usual, when government bureaucracies are involved, the wheels of progress grind forward at a snail's pace. Unfortunately, backhoes and bulldozers move a lot faster than snails and bureaucracies, so by the time "Richard the Lionhearted" finally gets around to straightening out his kingdom, the "Prince Johns" with their heavy equipment may have already done the damage.
Like we said two months ago, if we're going to have rules, everyone should follow them. Those who refuse should have to pay, and pay dearly, for their miscreant ways. Evidently, they can afford it.