The process determining which canoe outfitters receive float permits is one of the most contested issues the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission faces each spring; however, it was one of the last items of 23 listed on the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.

Each year, the OSRC distributes 3,900 float permits for three separate areas along the Illinois River among approximately 24 commercial canoe operators. Historically, outfitters request far more permits than the state allows, and this year was no exception. For 2006, OSRC received 4,163 permit requests, and it was the commissioner’s job to whittle the requests down and distribute the permits. Deadline for permit applications was 4 p.m., Feb. 10.

OSRC Administrator Ed Fite provided commissioners with detailed information from the previous year, including the number of permits issued to each float operator for each area, and how well operators utilized the permits.

Three new float operations requested permits, including Elephant Rock Nature Park, Bigfoot Floats and Town Branch Guest Ranch.

According to Fite, Harvey Chaffin, owner of Green Country Floats, did not turn in his application requesting 32 permits until Tuesday, along with a request.

“Harvey has requested we consider his late application for 32 permits, which he plans to lease to Town Branch Guest Ranch, which would be in addition to the 50 already requested by Town Branch,” said Fite.

In light of the overwhelming number of requests, some commissioners had a problem with approving the late application.

“Why can’t we just not give Green Country Floats permits and issue them straight to Town Branch and deduct that 32 from the 50 Town Branch has requested?” asked Ed Brocksmith. “We have had trouble in the past with operators turning applications in at their discretion, and we should follow the deadline.”

Commissioner D.I. Wilkinson shed a little light on why it’s so important for canoe operators to maintain or increase the number of permits they possess.

“The way this works in reality is a business’s worth is determined by the number of permits that business granted,” said Wilkinson. “You take away an outfitter’s permits, and it tells others that his business is not profitable.”

Commissioners asked Brian Berry, owner of Town Branch Guest Ranch, about the agreement he had with Chaffin.

“We have a number of shared interests,” said Berry. “But it was my understanding the Harvey wanted to keep the number of permits issued to his outfit and lease them to me.”

Commissioners took the information under advisement, much to the chagrin of Elephant Rock Nature Park owner Rod Foster.

“Since you opened the floor for public comment by speaking to Mr. Berry, I’d like the opportunity to address the commissioners,” said Foster. “Being the former committee chairman for OSRC User Fees, I’d like to point out we have taken issue with other operators for turning in late applications, and Mr. Chaffin should be no exception. Follow the rules.”

Following discussion, commissioners issued an additional seven permits to outfitters in Commerical Float Area (CFA) 2, and deducted seven permits from CFA 3. Of the 3,900 permits issued for 2006, 205 were issued to CFA 1, which did not change from last year; 2,375 permits were issued to outfitters in CFA 2; and 1,320 were issued to outfitters in CFA 3.

Commissioners also elected new officers for 2006, to include: Bill Blackard, chairman; Gerald Hilshire, vice chairman; and Steve Randall, secretary-treasurer.

Presentations were made by a number of organizations and state entities, including reports from the Illinois River Watershed Partnership and the Poultry Partners. Both reports were given by area resident and poultry farmer Bev Saunders.

Derek Smithee of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, gave a presentation regarding Oklahoma water quality standards and sampling, and Dan Butler of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission regarding the proposed Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the Illinois River watershed.

“We at OWRB want you commissioners to know you’re not alone when it comes to water quality sampling,” said Smithee. “In addition to working closely with the U.S. Geological Survey, we have a number of entities completing water testing in a number of ways, all which work closely with the USGS and the State of Arkansas.

“We came tonight primarily to address the concerns of Commissioner Culver and [Jennifer] Owen about spending money with the USGS on water quality testing,” said Smithee.

The issue of the commission spending $49,000 to continue the current water sampling program was addressed during November’s meeting.

Culver commented on the details provided.

“You have explained yourselves very well,” said Culver. “And if I didn’t feel comfortable spending that money [with USGS] I’d still be talking about it. I appreciate your coming to explain how this all fits together.”

Butler presented information on CREP, a riparian program proposed for landowners along the Illinois River watershed. OSRC is considering committing a majority of the recent $1.1 million donated by the poultry industry to help implement CREP.

According to Butler, CREP is a voluntary land retirement program that helps agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat and safeguard ground and surface water through the installation of vegetative buffers and complimentary conservation practices.

The program provides a four to one match for each dollar generated, according to Butler, as a cost-share match. In other words, the poultry companies’ donation of $1.1 million could turn into $5 million to implement “best management practices” and other projects within the Illinois River Basin.

Following the presentation, commissioners approved committing $191,000 of the poultry gift money to the OCC for the CREP in the Illinois River Basin. The money will be provided from poultry money for Fiscal Year 2006, and the OCC will have the responsibility for implementing the CREP in the river basin on behalf of the state.

What’s Next

The next OSRC regular business meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 18, at OSRC Headquarters on Scenic State Highway 10.


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