Several flatbed trailers loaded with lumber were slated to be burned at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds Thursday, until concerned citizens contacted officials about the project.
Cherokee Nation District 1 Councilor Bill John Baker received several calls Thursday morning indicating lumber designated for tribal self-help projects was going to be burned at the cultural grounds south of Tahlequah.
“The people calling me said they were told the lumber had gotten wet and is unusable, but looking at the lumber, I think it could be used by our citizens, or at least donated to Habitat for Humanity. Instead, they just decided to burn it,” he said.
Around 1 p.m. Thursday, several loads of lumber were piled up at the site, with gasoline cans at the ready. Baker said a reprieve on the burn was issued until a determination could be made on the materials’ status. At least two more truckloads were scheduled to be delivered later.
Cherokee Nation Communications Officer Mike Miller confirmed the lumber had been pulled from the tribe’s inventory.
“The lumber we’re talking about doesn’t meet federal requirements for building material,” said Miller. “We looked at what we had, and not all materials met requirements. Since we used federal funding for housing projects, we must meet very strict regulations and don’t want to use faulty materials.”
Although the lumber was not burned Thursday, Miller said it may be the tribe’s only option.
“Regulations may not allow us to give it away to a community group, even with the understanding it is substandard material,” said Miller. “So it really becomes a question of what you do with lumber that doesn’t meet the standard, and how can we best comply with our NAHASDA grant, which is a big part of our budget.”
Miller said the lumber was marked as substandard by professional inspectors.
“The inspectors who made the call are guys who do this for a living,” said Miller. “It’s their profession. It’s not someone who eyeballs it and says, ‘Hey, this looks good.’ While people like you and I may think it could work, by professional standards, it will not.”
Baker talked with Marvin Jones, an official with Cherokee Nation Housing, who said federal guidelines have no provision for shrinkage or waste, and that the lumber expense had already been written off to the tribe’s general fund.
“I’d like to know where they got the budget authority to do that,” said Baker, pointing out that budget decisions must be cleared by a vote of the council.