An attempt by brothers Ladd and Tim Drummond along with 11 other Pawhuska businesses and ranching people to privatize almost 15 miles of county road failed on Feb. 14, when the Osage County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously that the petition didn’t merit a hearing.
None of the petitioners showed up to speak and only one Drummond did: Joe Bush, whose mother was a Drummond, and he disapproved of his kinfolk’s efforts to close the road, which would have gated a main route from the northeast side of Bluestem Lake all the way down to U.S. 60 where the Drummond Ranch sign spans County Road 4461.
“I’ll oppose closing the road as long as I can, as hard as I can,” Bush said.
The reason Drummonds gave for wanting the road closed was that they’ve been having trouble with cattle being shot, poachers and other “mischief,” said District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones.
Bush added that an arsonist has been active in the area.
The road has seen much more traffic thanks to the success of Ree Drummond, Ladd Drummond’s wife and the popular blogger, Food Network personality and proprietor of the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska.
Ree Drummond doesn’t live on the road – her brother-in-law Tim Drummond does – but tourists flock to the “Drummond” sign over CR 4451 at U.S. 60; the Food Network also films there on occasion.
Pawhuskan Marty Hendren observed on Facebook that he wants “to close 8th Street because it runs in front of my house,” garnering many laughs.
Osage Nation ready to fight
The Osage Nation sent an envoy to speak against the idea because it owns land on the road and because some tribal members have restricted tracts that are accessed from it.
Realty Specialist Katie Yates Free told the commissioners that the Nation opposed the proposal and that the Nation would mount a legal fight over the issue that would be led by Charles R. Babst, the general attorney for the Office of the Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior.
The commissioners’ meeting drew a crowd of approximately 50. Given the minimal notice about the meeting, the number in attendance was a testament to the strength of the opposition to the idea of closing those portions of county roads 4070 and 4461.
No supporters spoke up
When District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney asked for a show of hands by who was there to support the proposal, only one hand went up. When McKinney asked for positive input about the proposal in a follow-up question, no one acknowledged that they had raised their hand, prompting Carol Conner of the Fairfax Chief newspaper to joke that the person had been “waving at a fly.”
The road-closing issue came up at the Pawhuska City Council on Feb. 8 but was discussed behind closed doors in an improperly noticed executive session. The agenda described the reason for the closed session as a “pending claim” and cited an Oklahoma statute, “25 O.S. Supp.2007,403 (B)(4).” No such statute exists in Oklahoma.
After the commissioners’ meeting on Feb. 14, Pawhuska City Manager Jerry Eubanks acknowledged that the executive session was improperly noticed and said it should have claimed “pending litigation” as the reason for closing the meeting because the city was expecting to sue should the county vacate the road.
He also said that he and City Attorney John Heskett will review the agendas more closely in the future.
The first public notice of the Drummond proposal came when the Commissioners’ published their agenda late last week.
When word of what was on the agenda was posted on Facebook, along with a map of the proposed road vacation, the reaction was swift.
Former Pawhuska Police Chief and longtime lawman Scott Laird noted that closing the road would “trap many folks during a flood. [I’ve] experienced it many times and if an emergency happens no one could get to u and it usually floods during the busiest times.” (sic)
When Bluestem Lake floods, the two most commonly used routes out from the northeast side – over the spillway or taking CR 4070 east of the proposed closure over the low water crossing known as Green Eyes – can be impassable for several hours or longer. The route that the Drummonds wanted to close also has a low-water bridge, but the area has much better drainage and water usually subsides much more quickly.
On Facebook, Pawhuska Code Enforcement Officer Steve Hughes weighed in on the side of the Drummonds, drawing several likes and one “Amen.”
“I don’t really have a dog in this hunt, but it seems kind of obvious that most people commenting on this thread is not really familiar with the road,” he wrote. “If green eyes and the spillway is flooded, ‘this road’ has a low-water crossing that will be flooded too. (sic)
“It may run down and be crossable a little faster, but not much …
“The road will still be there, although it may have a gate or two, that could be opened for people to drive through in case of an emergency, and probably how the oil field workers/pumpers will access the road on a daily basis.
“It’s really sad that people post or comment on things trying to purposely criticize the family that’s done the most for this community.”
Hughes added that no decision would be made at Monday’s meeting.
He was incorrect.
The County Commissioners had two options: To go forward, notify all affected landowners, hold a public hearing in about two months, and then decide whether to vacate the road. Or there was the more direct option: To declare the road petition to be “without merit” and scuttle it without a hearing.
The latter is what happened: Commissioner Jones made the motion to declare the petition without merit, McKinney seconded it, and District 2 Commissioner Steven Talburt joined them, unanimously deep-sixing the proposal.
It is dead for now, but it can be petitioned anew at any time. The petition to close 14.9 miles of county road to the general public was signed by 13 people: Ranchers Tim Drummond, Ladd Drummond, Tyson Johnson of Sooner Land & Cattle, Bill Avery of Cariola Cattle Co., Glen Jech, Pawhuska businessmen Steve Tolson, James Allen, Hank Benson and Terry Moore, Tolson insurance agent Lori Loftis, John T. Manning of the Osage County Conservation District, Drummond Ranch cowboy Tim Kill, and a signatory whose name could not be determined by commissioners.