Dam controversy on Barren Fork Creek in Adair County

Monday, August 1st 2005, 10:23 am
By: News On 6

Someone built an illegal dam on a tributary of the Illinois River in eastern Oklahoma. The state is investigating and promises to remove it, at the expense of whoever built it. The dam is on the Barren Fork Creek, not far from Westville, in Adair County.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says the earthen dam was built out of river rock and dirt from the Barren Fork Creek. It's more than 6 feet high and over 400 feet long.

The problem is its illegal - and now no one wants to take credit or blame for it. Ed Fite with the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission: "It appeared whoever did it was trying to move the creek to its original channel."

The creek changed course in the early 1970's, shifting about ten acres of land from one side of the creek to the other. That could legally shift land ownership from one person to another, but whoever did it bulldozed some trees, and created an algae problem and left a quarter mile of creek bed bone dry. “This particular issue will be very serious once kit's identified who the responsible parties are and the corrective measures determined to restore the creek."

The Barren Fork Creek is a tributary of the Illinois River and both are designated as scenic rivers, giving them special protection under the law. Anyone disturbing the flow of the river can be charged with some hefty fines - in this case, as much as $25,000 a day.

So far the impact on the Illinois has been unnoticeable, because the water still flows into the river, but the Scenic Rivers Commission worries removing the dam will stir up silt and damage the creek and the river. "It is a special resource that warrants special preservation."

The state's investigation has been handed off to federal authorities, who have jurisdiction over what happens on Barren Fork Creek.

The News on 6 spoke with a couple of adjacent land owners, who said the dam wasn't connected to their property and they didn't know who built it.

A conservation group, "Save the Illinois River", is offering a $1,000 reward for information. Tips should go to the Scenic Rivers Commission at 918-456-3251.