SALLISAW, Okla. – In March, the U.S. Department of Energy announced its participation in the development of Clean Line Energy’s Plains & Eastern project, a 700-mile, high-voltage transmission line expected to transfer wind energy from western Oklahoma to Tennessee.
A study shows the line would deliver 4,000 megawatts of power from the panhandle to utilities and customers in Arkansas, Tennessee and the Mid-South and Southeast areas.
One county the line would traverse is Sequoyah County. Many residents there are Cherokee Nation citizens, and the proposed route would run near and parallel to the historic Trail of Tears and Sequoyah’s Home, a site where the noted Cherokee linguist lived.
Residents who could be affected by the line recently met to discuss opposition to it.
Kathryn Wilburne, who lives near Sallisaw, said she and her husband James would have a clear view of the line from their living room. They bought their property about 12 years ago and built a home on it in 2008 when they retired.
“This has been a dream for decades to come back (from California) and have a farm and be in a beautiful historical area that we have here,” she said. “It is so precious what is here. It can be found nowhere else. It’s an honor to be here. It’s an honor to be a steward here. We love our farm.”
Kathryn, a Sequoyah County Historical Society member, said she’s concerned about the potential loss of hidden historic places. She said the lands were Cherokee allotments and that Cherokee families have plots and cemeteries throughout the county. Surveyors have worked to document the historic aspects and discoveries in the area, she said, and those would be key to developments.
“There are also Indian signal trees here (trees bent to mark routes or significant sites), and there are also paths people have found designating where wagons have gone through,” she said. “We have to be respectful of what is here. We know that there are people buried here, and as such, the landowners know it, and they are very protective of these people that are buried here even if they’re not related to them.”
Tribal Councilor Bryan Warner said he’s listened to citizens living in areas where the line would pass.
“What I’m hearing from this group overall is about the lack of transparency, the disgraceful tactics and the other things that have come from Clean Line. I feel if there was big need, this group (landowners) would consider letting this thing come through, but from the research they have done they believe there is not that great of need at this moment,” he said.
He said the Tribal Council stands behind its 2015 resolution objecting to the line going through the CN.
“I’ve talked with (Principal) Chief (Bill John) Baker. I’ve talked with the Attorney General Todd Hembree. I’ve talked with Sara Hill, secretary of Natural Resources, and we all still are a go to help these individuals and do what we can to help stop this transmission line,” Warner said.
He said because the CN owns part of the Arkansas Riverbed, it may be able to stop Clean Line from crossing the river in western Sequoyah County.
Clean Line Energy Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado said the CN resolution contains information that is “not factually true.” It states the line would cross ceremonial grounds, however, Hurtado said Clean Line has worked hard not to do that and “has absolutely no knowledge” it would.
The resolution suggests the project would go “across the Stokes Smith Ceremonial Ground” near Vian, but Hurtado said the DOE obtained locational details about the ground from the CN.
“The route is more than 0.5 miles to the south of the Stokes Smith Ceremonial Grounds, along an existing transmission line. Extensive analysis was done on this location and there is no visual or other impact from locating the new transmission line along the south side of the existing line in that area,” reads a company statement.
Hurtado said crews have been active along the right-of-way for the line gathering data on wetlands, rivers and other waters regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Crews are also conducting surveys to ensure cultural resources are not harmed.
He said crews are also working to acquire easements along the route, which would contain 150-foot towers.
“We are working with a couple of Oklahoma-based companies that do this kind of work a lot for all kinds of infrastructure projects. We’ve done training with those agents. We’re going to make sure they are going to be following the code of conduct. We’ve got to work with landowners to make sure they are respectful and treat people correctly,” Hurtado said.
The agents are also there to ensure landowners understand they will get 100 percent of the market value of the right-of-way, he said, and that Clean Line is paying for property structures that would need removed.
“People can get annual payments for structures on their property. Even if they don’t have structures on their property they can still get annual payments,” he said.
Steve Parish, who lives near Gore, said the proposed line “takes out” his 20 acres, which includes his home.
“If there was a need for this power to come through, if it was helping everybody, I would sacrifice. I probably would just go ahead with the deal, but it’s not. It just takes away, and we worked too hard for that,” he said.
Parish said he learned of the line in 2013 and met with a Clean Line official who showed him where the line would cross in relation to his property.
“It does affect me quite a bit. The 200-foot easement they are looking at is right next to my house, and I told them that’s pretty close,” he said.
He said the representative offered to move the line about 200 feet from his home. He said the representative also told him “it would still be in his backyard” and that Parish “wouldn’t get two cents.”
In July, Parish said Clean Line representatives returned for an environmental survey. He said he questioned whether they had already performed it on his property. Parish said his wife intervened and told them they did not have permission for the survey.
“They said, ‘we see that you’re going to be a little bit difficult. We’ll send somebody else out.’ I haven’t heard from them since,” he said.
Hurtado said if a landowner does not want to talk to a representative that wish is respected and the representative leaves and does not knock on their door again.
“If the result of that conversation is ‘I just don’t want an agent from Clean Line contacting me,’ then we take note of that, and we try to be respectful of that, but we have to be able to at least try. In fact, we are obligated to talk to people about the project, about easements,” he said. “People can always contact us. If they have an issue about how a land agent is acting towards them or they feel they haven’t been treated fairly, we want to know about that.”
People can call 1-855-466-1021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to voice concerns, Hurtado said.
Projects like the transmission line take much time and planning, Hurtado said, and that it’s important to recognize the benefits that can come from the $2 billion endeavor.
“If folks have issues we want to be able to work through those. Our job is to do this in the best way possible. We really want to do right by the communities where the project is going to be located,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to know that it’s going to provide very economic, low-cost energy to well over a million homes, and it’s going to provide economic development and jobs to thousands and thousands of people.”
Hurtado said Clean Line wants to begin construction in late 2017 and for the line to be operational in 2020.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Attorneys for former Cherokee Nation Foundation Executive Director Kimberlie Gilliland filed a motion in the tribe’s District Court on Aug. 17 requesting the court stay a civil case filed against her on July 27 by the CNF.
The stay is requested pending the disposition of a criminal case against Gilliland filed by the CN attorney general’s office on July 28 alleging embezzlement and fraud during her time as CNF executive director.
In the civil case, Gilliland faces 22 counts that stem from a more-than-two-year investigation involving irregularities in her salary, travel expenses, spending and awarding of CNF scholarships. Gilliland was appointed to serve as CNF executive director in August 2009 and served until July 2013.
Gilliland has called the court filings “baseless.”
Her request for a stay states that eight of the nine counts in the criminal case “are based upon the same allegations” in the civil case and that she would face a dilemma of self-incrimination in the criminal case if she chooses to defend herself against the civil charges. The motion also states a stay pending a final resolution of the criminal case “would further the interests” of the court and “would not harm the public.”
Her civil case attorney, James Proszek of the law firm Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable of Tulsa, signed the motion.
Also on Aug. 17, her attorney in the civil suit filed a motion to dismiss embezzlement and conversion claims by CNF attorney Ralph Keen. The motion claims the embezzlement and conversion claims were filed two years after the claims accrued and exceed statute of limitations and should be dismissed.
District Judge Bart Fite had not responded to the two motions as of publication.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At an Aug. 19 press conference, Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said he believed his officers were justified in shooting 49-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Dominic Rollice while responding to an Aug. 12 disturbance.
Rollice was transported to Northeast Health System where he was pronounced dead.
At the press conference, King released the incident’s 911 call as well as body camera footage from one officer that showed the shooting.
According to the 911 call, at about 9:35 p.m. Rollice was “drunk” at the caller’s home in the Shawnee Court vicinity. The caller said she was afraid the situation was going to “get ugly real quick.” King said Rollice was at the home, in which he did not live, and would not leave.
Lt. Brandon Vick and Officers Josh Girdner and Chase Reed arrived at the home shortly after the call, King said.
Reed’s body camera footage shows the three policemen speaking to Rollice and then following him into a garage. After Rollice retreats to the back of the garage, he pulls a claw hammer from a tool bench area and holds it above his head. The footage shows the officers ordering him to drop the hammer several times. Rollice says “no” and states that he’s in his house and he’s doing “nothing wrong.”
Video shows Reed stating that he’s going to use his Taser and Rollice making a quick movement with the hammer. Girdner and Vick then fire six gunshots at Rollice at the same time Reed fires his Taser. After falling to the floor, the footage shows Reed performing CPR until emergency responders arrive.
King said the footage shows a “violent encounter which resulted in the loss of a human life” and that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.
He said the OSBI interviewed the three officers on Aug. 18 and that the officers were on paid administrative leave until the investigation is complete. King added that the OSBI would provide the investigation’s results to the district attorney, who would then determine whether the shooting was justified.
Although, the shooting is under investigation, King said he felt the officers followed procedure and were justified in how they handled the situation.
The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Rollice’s parents for comment, but they declined.
Court records show Rollice pleaded no contest to a 2015 child sexual abuse charge in Cherokee County and was serving a suspended sentence.
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board will meet at 9:30 a.m. CST, Sept. 1, 2016, inside the Tribal Services conference room in the Cherokee Nation complex. It is an open meeting and the public is welcome to attend. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2016/8/10560__9.1.16CherokeePhoenixEditorialBoardMeetingAgenda.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the agenda.
TULSA, Okla. – The Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter will hold its 2016 Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Oct. 22 at the Guthrie Green located at 111 E. Mathew B. Brady St.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. with a ceremony at 9 a.m. and the walk at 9:30 a.m. The walk’s length is 1.5 miles.
“Alzheimer’s is an epidemic devastating our families, our finances and our futures. The disease is all around us, but the power to stop it is within us. Join us for the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s and be inspired by all the footsteps that fall into place behind yours. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s,” Nellie Windsor, Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter communications director, said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills and behavioral changes.
For more information, call Leeanna Tomah at?918-392-5010 or email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a> or visit <a href="http://www.tulsawalk.org" target="_blank">tulsawalk.org</a>.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – An agreement that settles longstanding lawsuits involving water rights in the historic treaty territories of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations in south central and southeastern Oklahoma was announced Aug. 11 by Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma City officials and tribal leaders.
The agreement provides a framework for intergovernmental collaboration on water resource issues that protects existing water rights and ends water and tribal sovereignty disputes stemming back to the 19th century, officials said while unveiling details of the agreement.
“This is a big deal for our state,” Fallin said. “Having a sufficient and reliable supply of water is essential. It provides certainty for future development.”
“The agreement also allows the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations to have a voice in specific proceedings addressing water resources within their treaty territories,” she said.
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the agreement includes a system of lake level release restrictions to conserve water resources for recreational activities in the region, a priority of the tribal governments.
“This process we call mediation, it’s a wonderful process, it’s a difficult process,” Batton said. “At the end of the day, we all came together in the spirit of unity.”
“This is an historic agreement,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said. “While we’ve been sovereign since time immemorial, sovereignty is something we should never take for granted. As tribal leaders, we have a duty to engage in this process and exercise our right as sovereign nations to protect the interests of our people.”
The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations have long accused Oklahoma of not abiding by the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which gave the tribes authority over water in their jurisdiction. The state argued that the tribes were ignoring an 1866 pact in which they gave up certain rights after backing the Confederates in the Civil War.
The current fight started in 2011 after Oklahoma City sought rights to water from a southeastern Oklahoma reservoir, Sardis Lake. The tribes filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Oklahoma Water Resources Board had no right to consider an offer to use water from traditional Native American homeland.
Oklahoma countersued, saying it wanted a court to resolve where the tribes’ rights begin and end in the Kiamichi, Muddy Boggy and Clear Boggy Watersheds in southeastern Oklahoma.
Under the settlement, Oklahoma would continue to manage the state’s natural water supply but acknowledge tribal sovereignty and meet the tribes’ conservation guidelines, officials said. The deal also guarantees Oklahoma City’s long-term access to Sardis Lake.
The agreement was signed Aug. 10 by U.S. District Judge Lee West. Congressional approval is also required.
The dispute over Sardis Lake, which was built by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, is one of several that have focused on southeastern Oklahoma’s abundant water resources. The region’s Atoka pipeline has transported water to Oklahoma City and surrounding areas in central Oklahoma for about 50 years.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Oklahoma’s favor in a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Tarrant Regional Water District in North Texas that sought access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates the two states.
The agreement does not authorize out-of-state use or diversion of water, which remains unlawful in the state. But it calls for a commission to evaluate the impacts of future proposals for out-of-state water use, which would remain subject to legislative authorization.
In the Sardis Lake case, the tribes initially sought, among other things, an injunction against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission.
The state responded with its own lawsuit in February 2012 asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide what rights the two tribes actually have to water in the region. The state’s lawsuit was transferred to federal court and formal mediation began in July 2012.
It took five years to settle the Sardis Lake dispute, but other water fights, especially in the drought-prone West, have dragged on far longer.
In 2010, officials in New Mexico settled a 1966 lawsuit involving more than 2,500 defendants in a case involving four Native American pueblos and non-Native American residents in northern Santa Fe County.