Return Barren Fork to commission control
One of the first actions by the Legislature next year should be to put the Barren Fork back under the protection of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.
State and federal environmental and waterway agencies have been looking into the construction of two illegal dams on the Barren Fork recently, one in Adair County, the other in Cherokee County. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have sent cease and desist orders to two Adair County residents, Darryl Cates and Sam Chandler, an Adair County commissioner, over one dam. The state Department of Environmental Quality also sent notices of violation to Cates and Chandler.
However, Cates and Chandler say they weren't involved with the Adair County dam and as yet no one has accepted responsibility.
Dam-building, gravel mining and other activities that disturb stream beds are illegal without a permit in all of Oklahoma waterways. The Barren Fork is a state scenic river, supposedly with even greater protection to maintain it as a free-flowing stream.
Unfortunately, in the early 1980s, after protests by Adair County residents, the Legislature removed the Barren Fork in Adair County from the jurisdiction of the OSRC. Commission rangers do not patrol the Barren Fork; the commission cannot regulate floating activities or access areas on the creek.
But the construction of the illegal dam in Adair County proves the need for greater supervision.
Chandler was quoted in a state story last weekend as saying the Corps and commission were not doing their jobs.
"If this creek is managed by the Corps ... and the Scenic Rivers Commission for another 20 years, there won't be a creek left," Chandler said. "I was born on that creek, and I know what I'm talking about."
The problem with the Barren Fork in Adair County, though, is that it is not being watched by the commission and the Corps depends on the honesty of citizens to inquire about permits if they feel working in or along the creek is necessary.
We can't leave the protection of the river to the honor system or county officials, especially officials like Chandler, who has property near the site of the illegal dam but said he has no idea how the dam got there.
The Legislature made a mistake more than 20 years ago taking the Barren Fork out of the hands of the commission. They can correct that mistake.
Originally published August 9, 2005