Oklahoma DEQ opens criminal inquiry after more water discharged from town’s sewer lagoons into Lake Eufaula

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The town of Carlton Landing. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has opened a criminal inquiry into the town of Carlton Landing’s water district after it dumped nearly half a million gallons of water from its sewage lagoons into Lake Eufaula earlier this month.

The investigation comes less than two months after the town’s water district was put under a DEQ consent order following numerous discharges from the town’s sewage lagoons in 2017 and 2018, and was fined up to $33,750 under a separate DEQ administrative order issued in April after pumping more than 30,000 gallons of water from the lagoons using an unpermitted land application system.

Planned development on the town’s lease of 420 acres of nearby U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land was also halted by the Corps in late March, after The Frontier reported that DEQ records and video posted to social media showed water from the lagoons being drained onto the land and flowing into the lake a few hundred feet downhill from the lagoons.

Carlton Landing, located just south of the town of Eufaula on the shores of Lake Eufaula, was officially incorporated as a town in 2013, and has its own school district and tax increment finance district for economic development. The planned community was the vision of Grant Humphreys, an Oklahoma City developer and son of former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys (who is an investor in the project) in 2007. Based on the principles of New Urbanism and sustainability, Carlton Landing’s homes, unique architecture, and location have been a selling point for the development, and millions of dollars in private investment have gone into building the town.

The latest investigation into the town’s water district by DEQ was opened earlier this month as a result of the town discharging partially treated water from its sewage lagoons from the morning of May 8 to the evening of May 9. A report submitted to DEQ by the town’s water district estimates that at least 432,000 gallons of water was pumped from the lagoon onto nearby land a few hundred feet uphill from Lake Eufaula.

According to that report, the No. 3 lagoon was again in danger of breaching the dike, requiring water to be pumped out with numerous hoses before it flowed over the top of the lagoon.

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Tests for e coli and other contaminates were performed on the water in the lagoon, but the results had not yet been reported to DEQ, the report states.

The town’s lagoon system has been the source of numerous bypasses since 2017, including one four-day period in March 2018 during which more than 3 million gallons of water was drained onto U.S. Army Corps of Engineer land and into the lake, according to DEQ reports.

The town’s water district has a lagoon system with three cells, though it is currently working on plans to install a land application system that would allow the town to drain water from its lagoons and spray it on nearby land. That system is only a temporary measure, however, and the town’s ultimate plan is to complete construction on a wastewater treatment facility that would discharge treated wastewater into Lake Eufaula. The DEQ consent order requires that the treatment facility be operational by October 2020.

DEQ spokeswoman Erin Hatfield confirmed that the department’s criminal investigation division opened a preliminary inquiry as a result of the May 8 and 9 bypass, and that another, separate administrative enforcement action is currently being prepared by DEQ, but has not yet been finalized. If another such enforcement measure is issued by DEQ, it would be the third enforcement action by the department against Carlton Landing’s water district in as many months.

Criminal investigations by the DEQ can be referred to the local district attorney’s office or Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office for prosecution, once complete.

Humphreys said that he was out of town during the time the bypass was performed and only learned about it later through social media.

“I didn’t know it was going to happen, I didn’t know it happened, and I didn’t know or authorize the manner in which it happened,” Humphreys said.

Records show that the May 8 bypass was reported to DEQ about an hour after it began by Bob Buckner, a project manager for Carlton Landing Enterprises, LLC, a company for which Humphreys is an owner, according to corporate records. The company is contracted by the town’s water board to perform administrative duties and carry out day-to-day operations.

However, Humphreys said, Buckner did not authorize the discharge either. Humphreys said he, as well as DEQ investigators, know the individual who authorized the May 8 release, but declined to provide that person’s name to The Frontier.

After learning of the May 8 and 9 bypass, Humphreys, who owns the land the lagoons are located on and has secured a $1.5 million loan to build the new wastewater treatment facility, said he contacted the water board and asked that no more bypasses occur.

“After that happened, I contacted the board of directors (for the water district) and said ‘we cannot continue to have bypasses,’” Humphreys said. “When I called I told the board ‘Guys, I don’t have a vote to control what you do, I can’t direct you to do anything, but your lagoon is on top of my land and I own the debt of the district. From that perspective, I’m saying don’t flood onto my private land, and this is your lender calling and saying change the policy.’”

On Saturday, Carlton Landing’s water board met and passed a measure that would “not allow any further bypasses to occur” from the lagoon system, unless it was through the DEQ-authorized aeration system, which Humphreys said should be built in the next two to three weeks, or by hauling the water out to an approved treatment facility.

During the meeting, the board also approved a measure to hire a contractor to pump water from the lagoons and haul it to a nearby wastewater treatment facility. The contractor began pumping and hauling water from the lagoons on Monday, Humphreys said.

The board also approved on Saturday a lease agreement with Ridgeline Ranch, LLC, a company owned by Humphreys, for land to construct and operate a new wastewater treatment facility on, requested money from the town’s tax increment finance district fund to help pay for the new facility. A resolution allowing the board to hire outside legal counsel to handle DEQ issues and a measure to engage a public relations firm to “formulate informational campaign and have a preemptive response prior to” a story from KOTV on the bypasses scheduled to air at the end of May were also on the agenda, but were not approved.

The town of Carlton Landing’s sewage lagoon No. 1. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier

Further reading:

https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/construction-projects-halted-as-oklahoma-deq-issues-second-order-against-carlton-landings-water-district/

https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/towns-water-district-dumped-millions-of-gallons-of-water-from-sewer-lagoons-into-lake-eufaula-deq-records-show/

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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