Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The news is still broken

Night before last the suspect in the lumberyard arson case escaped from the county jail He happened to follow the escape route left by another prisoner. This was the second escape in about a week for the second prisoner -- previously he was one of three who escaped and were recaptured at a motel about six blocks from my house. Upon the recapture of the three, they were returned to the jail in lieu of $1 million bonds.

The arson suspect was being held on many counts and his bond was $200,000 on the eight original charges in connection with that case. He had just bonded out on some other counts the day before the arson was committed, so the bond was revoked on those counts. In other words, both of these guys are SUPPOSED TO STAY in jail.

The day of the arson's suspects initial court appearance, I went to court to watch. I wanted to see this punk up close. It was a real family affair for him that day. The two juvenile accomplices had their closed hearings that morning. One of those was his 16-year-old brother.

His 24-year-old sister also was on the same docket on three or four counts of her own. They were brought to court separately and sat facing each other. Other family members came to the courtroom and attempted to sit near the two but the jail custodian stopped them and told them to get back and sit on the back row.

That day in court was a good day to watch justice in action, as another "frequent flyer" appeared on new charges on his long rap sheet. The previous weekend he had been involved in an arrest in which he tried to escape and physically assaulted an officer. A lot of stolen property was discovered in his 91-year-old grandmother's garden shed. Unfortunately, she refused to help officers with information and got to spend some time in the back of the police cruiser for that bad choice. Of course they later released her, but that punk should be ashamed for involving her in his hot mess.

Somehow one of my co-workers happened to make it to the scene with his camera while the fracas was going on and got photos of the struggle and then of the officer's scraped-up arms where he tackled the punk. There's one great photo which shows a muddy footprint on the top of the officer's shoulder where the punk tried stepping over him to run.

The arson suspect was recaptured last night about 6 p.m. while I was in a public hearing about a mile away. Now if they can locate the other jailbird who got out of the cage, I can breathe easier.

Speaking of the public hearing: The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality held a public hearing on the issuance of a permit to operate a leachate pond at the city landfill. This is a common practice and is a step in every single landfill project in the state. This is for the expansion of a cell at the landfill, which has been operating since 1977.

What makes this a difficult situation is that the landfill is located directly across the street from a tribal cemetery (Ponca tribe). It is also within 500 feet of the Salt Fork River, a tributary to the Arkansas River. The confluence of the two rivers is nearby.

The tribe originally approved an agreement with the city to allow the city to use the site of a former quarry as the landfill in 1977. They are saying now that the agreement was to restore the quarry to level ground.

Now, however, 30 years later, the landfill is a 30-foot mountain rising above the level of the surrounding land. And it is growing taller daily. The landfill has polluted the groundwater in the area as well as being an eyesore. The landfill continues to operate even when tribal funerals are taking place.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing a combined environmental health risk assessment on this area to study the various contributing factors which may be polluting this tribe's community. The landfill is one of a half-dozen or so contributing risks.

Sadly, the last full-blooded Ponca died in the last year to two years. His well was tested and was found to contain a laundry list of carcinogens. The river, which is a stone's throw from the cemetery, contains toxic metals and other chemical and has been shown to be unfishable. But the tribe is dependent on subsistence fishing from the river.

Members of the tribe spent about two hours presenting their comments to ODEQ last night and the record remains open for additional comments until July 18. Many referred to the landfill as "environmental genocide." They also challenged the Angelos, as they call us, to locate the landfill in the northeast quadrant of the city, which is in the 20 wealthiest zip codes in Oklahoma.

I didn't understand the full scope of the problem until after the meeting. My co-worker who has been a friend of the Poncas for years needed a ride home because he had a flat on his car (had to take a taxi to the meeting.) He asked if I was in a hurry or if I had time to run out and take a look at the site. I'm glad I agreed to go and got an honest look at the land. I'll have to go back with my own camera to show y'all the situation, but honest to God, the landfill is a disgrace to us all. Where once these people had an unfettered view of the prairie, that is now obliterated by this "monument" to garbage. You can get a real understanding of how threatening this is to the area, especially the river, and how this is crushing the culture and spirit from the Poncas.

Those who know the history of the Poncas' forced removal from Nebraska to north-central Oklahoma will understand why members of the tribe say that this is yet another example of the Seventh Calvary's attack on a sleeping peoples. The ancestors of this community were forced here on foot. Learn more by studying the history of chiefs Standing Bear and White Eagle.

And stay tuned. One thing certain about news is there's a new story every day. And because of that, I am pondering creating a new companion blog which will focus on the daily local news. More on that anon.

No comments: