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[Archived] Gravel mining operations found on Flint Creek

| Oklahoma Scenic Rivers | January 02, 2013

Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Chairman Rick Stubblefield reported three gravel mining and dredging operations discovered on Flint Creek within a one-mile stretch in southern Delaware County Monday morning.

OSRC Administrator Ed Fite was advised of the incident Monday. While investigating the incident, he discovered two other active gravel mining operations within a mile of where a track hoe was dredging in Flint Creek.

"When I arrived at the scene on Flint Creek adjacent to Flint Creek Waterpark, the track hoe was in a wetted portion of the creek," said Fite. "I contacted the track hoe operator, Ron Dodson, and told him to cease his activity."

Dodson indicated Ron Fidler, owner of the waterpark, had authorized the dredge activity.

Monday afternoon, Fite sent an e-mail to Tom Gruber, assistant attorney general; Don Maisch of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality; and Shane Charlson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, advising them of the situation and requesting what action, if any, they believed OSRC should take.

"After I left the area Monday morning, I called Ron Fidler to advise him of my request to his track hoe operator," said Fite. "Fidler told me I had no authority to stop his work, even though Flint Creek is well within the jurisdiction of the OSRC and has been deemed a scenic stream by state authorities."

Fite recommended Fidler contact officials with the ODEQ and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - namely, Wayne Craney and Shane Charlson.

"I tried to impress upon Mr. Fidler that it would beneficial for all concerned for us to get along," said Fite. "Mr. Fidler told me he had always done what he wanted and would not change his actions now."

Two other gravel mining operations were investigated by Fite Monday morning. The second was approximately one-half mile north from the U.S. 412 bridge adjacent to the water park owned by Fidler.

"That area has had land cleared right up to the edge of Flint Creek," said Fite. "It appears several acres have been cleared. A bulldozer, big loader and dump truck were on site but not operating. An old building has also been demolished adjacent to the creek, and most of the trees, undervegetation and debris has been 'windrolled' in very close proximity to the creek."

The third site is on land owned by Kenneth Whitmire, a mile north of the Fidler site on County Road 660 in Colcord.

"This area has been visited in past years," said Fite. "Mr. Whitmire has been advised on several occasions that he should cease gravel removal activity in the area."

Fite observed a back hoe loader and two dump trucks dredging and loading gravel within the streambed and below the ordinary high-water mark of the Flint Creek. Two trucks - a brown Mack 10-wheel dump truck and white 10-wheel dump truck with red and blue stripes - were operating Monday morning while Fite was on site.

"While at the third site, a black Ford pickup deliberately came from the area to my location to make a drive-by to determine who I was, and then immediately returned to the borrow area," said Fite.

Stubblefield said he was mortified by the rampant disregard for scenic streams and the gravel mining going on.

"It's pitiful, just pitiful," said Stubblefield. "If waiting almost 40 days to announce that an investigation will be conducted by Oklahoma's regulatory agencies in the Barren Fork dam and dredging incident has given other landowners the impression that gravel mining and dredging state scenic streams is a lawful and proper thing to do, I hope our regulatory agencies have learned that a prompt and public response to such incidents is absolutely necessary to protect Oklahoma's scenic streams."

Monty Elder, spokesman for ODEQ, has been apprised of the situation.

"The DEQ Water Quality Division received notification of the complaint from Mr. Fite, and we're making arrangements to visit the site now, in cooperation with Attorney General Drew Edmondson's office."

According to Charlie Price, public information officer for the AG's office, Assistant Attorney General Tom Gruber, who has been involved in the Adair County Barren Fork Creek illegal dam situation, was on vacation and had not been able to review the situation yet.

"I'm sure, however, the DEQ has contacted our people," said Price. "They will work together on the issue."

Adair County site update

Thursday, Aug. 11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency sent written notification of violation to Adair County Commissioner Sam Chandler. According to the letter, the notice is a followup to an earlier conversation concerning unpermitted development in a special flood hazard area in Adair County - namely, the illegal dam on Barren Fork Creek on Darryl Cates' property.

The letter states: "Unpermitted development is a violation of your ordinance, as well as the National Flood Insurance Program regulations, and requires correction as soon as possible. The County [Adair] should either ensure that the fill is removed back to the original contours prior to introducing the fill or should issue a development permit in accordance with ... NFIF Regulations."

The letter also requested copies of flood plain development permits should Chandler have them in his possession, or, if the fill is removed, to provide documentation to that effect. Deadline for a response from Chandler is 30 days, or by Saturday, Sept. 10.

Cherokee County site update

Friday, Aug. 12, Andy Anderson, member of the Wauhilla Outing Club, was notified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the diversion created while trying to shore up the suspension bridge on Barren Fork Creek in Cherokee County was an unauthorized discharge of material below the ordinary high-water mark, and constitutes a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The Corps has initiated an investigation, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal, state and local agencies, including the OSRC, to determine if corrective measures are needed.

The letter conveys a spirit of cooperation, stating civil penalties, which can amount to $25,000 per day, will "only be necessary if you choose not to cooperate of if you fail to complete any prescribed corrective or restorative measures."