Barren Fork Creek dam drawing state, federal attention

Thursday, August 4th 2005, 4:52 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Federal and state officials want to know more about who has been involved in building a dam on one of the state's six scenic waterways.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has joined in the investigation of earthworks erected along the Barren Fork Creek in eastern Oklahoma's Adair County. The EPA is interested in finding out if the dam or its construction had led to a violation of the federal Clean Water Act, agency spokesman Dave Bary said.

Investigators said the dam was built without state or federal permits, and the earthmoving has threatened one of the rivers in Oklahoma that receives the maximum state protection.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that would have been responsible for issuing any federal permit, asked the EPA to conduct an enforcement review to see if there were any violations of the water act, Bary said.

"If there are, we will take whatever action is appropriate," Bary said. "Right now, we just don't know enough."

The possibility of federal legal action is just one of several, ongoing efforts, said Miles Tolbert, Oklahoma's secretary of the environment. State and federal regulators with an interest in water issues met at Tolbert's office in Oklahoma City on Wednesday to discuss what happens next, he said.

"We're looking at this problem from all angles," Tolbert said. "In some ways, this is the worst time of the year to have an impoundment like this."

With little water moving through the creek at the height of summer, regulators are focused on removing the dam and seeing that justice is done, Tolbert said.

"The Barren Fork is a scenic river and the Legislature has formally declared that this is to be a free-flowing river," Tolbert said. "We intend to get it free flowing again, as soon as possible."

The Barren Fork is one of six eastern Oklahoma rivers covered by the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission. The scenic others rivers are the Illinois, Flint Creek, Lee and Little Lee Creek and Upper Mountain Fork River. Five of the six originate in Arkansas.

Getting the dam removed is complicated by the efforts to determine who built the structure, which was erected earlier this year. The owners of the property where the dam was constructed do not appear to have been involved in any of the work, Tolbert said.

Who did?

"That is part of what we need to find in the investigation," he said.

Meanwhile, the EPA review should be available in a few weeks, Bary said. The agency will decide from that review what action it may take, he said.