Beautiful Stilwell now deemed healthy

 Stilwell is not the death capitol and Mayor Jean Ann Wright is thrilled to share the good news of her hometown. Renee Fite | Democrat Journal

In 2020, the creative writing students of then Stilwell High School Creative Writing teacher Faith Philips addressed an article that called Stilwell the “Death Capital.”

Today, Mayor Jean Ann Wright has the facts to prove Stilwell is environmentally healthy and beautiful.

“We received a technical assistance grant that assisted the Department of Environmental Quality to investigate and put together a report regarding the “death capital” story that was published in 2018 in the Wall Street Journal,” said Wright.

The news is phenomenal, said the mayor.

“I was greatly relieved to read that it was a false story and that our water and air testings by several agencies have proven that we have clean air and a safe drinking source. I look forward to the Tulsa World and Wall Street Journal retracting their negative stories,” Wright said.

Wright first met Aron Samwel, the Environmental Programs Manager at Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in Oklahoma City at an annual leadership meeting. 

“I spoke to her at length about our need and desire of getting to the bottom of the truth or untruth of the article,” Wright said.

Samwel and her staff undertook the fact finding mission to get to the true story. 

“They provided the city with information and flyers regarding the not proven story that our life expectancy is 74 years old, not 56. The flyers and reports are available to any individual, group or business that would like them. Just let me know,” said Wright.

In essence, after examining the data covering the City of Stilwell’s quality of water, hazardous/non-hazardous waste sites, and air, DEQ has not recognized any environmental concerns and all facilities appear well managed with no violations to speak of. 

The report states the history as: Stilwell, the “Strawberry Capital of the World,” is a small community in Adair County in Eastern Oklahoma. Historically, the Stilwell area was initially settled by a disbandment depot (a food ration depot at the end of the Trail of Tears) in 1839 for the Tribal Nations that were relocated to the area due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Established officially in 1897, the City of Stilwell was built as part of a rail line of the Kansas City Southern Railway.. Currently, Stilwell is the largest Cherokee Nation community, with recent estimates saying that 47.5% of their population is Cherokee. While it is mostly known for its annual Strawberry Festival, Stilwell is also a gateway to Lake Tenkiller and Adair Park. 

Samwel, who wrote the Small Technical Assistance Grant Application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), explained how this news “sparked concerns that environmental contamination was to blame.”

This report details DEQ’s findings regarding water resources, hazardous/non-hazardous waste sites, and air quality. 

In a conference call on Oct. 26, 2020, with the the management team of the State Environmental Laboratory, the mayor learned that results from tests of the public water system and fish specimens sampled from the local lake were good; that the drinking water results revealed nothing significant and were free of mercury. The mayor was also provided peace of mind by letting her know that their public water facility was well run and regularly monitors all requirements with no violations to speak of. 

As an added measure, staff mentioned their intention to meet with the city’s public water operator to provide necessary technical assistance to increase competency where needed.  

Remote follow up was made with Stilwell’s public water operator, Dewayne Palmer, on Nov. 4, 2020. It was determined that he was well informed with the city’s public water monitoring requirements and utilizes resources available to help guide decision making.  Periodic follow ups will be made to check in on progress and needs. 

As for consumption of fish from the pond, samples collected in 2019 resulted in recommendations for vulnerable populations (women of child-bearing age, pregnant or nursing mothers, and children up to age 15) to restrict consumption of Largemouth Bass over 17 inches in length to no more than 2 meals per month. The next round of sampling is scheduled for 2024. 

Regarding hazardous waste sites, the Dec. 29, 2020 Comprehensive Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Report for Adair County shows all large and small quantity generators of hazardous waste to be in compliance. 

Air quality also passed all tests, for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, lead, and other pollutants and gases.

The report also found that Stilwell is prospering with an increase in employment opportunities with a new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Manufacturing Plant to produce masks to fight against COVID; with Schwan’s Food Company’s 2021 Crème Pie Line expansion, offering 176 new full-time positions; and with Redbird Bioscience (licensed medical cannabis operator) offering 120 new full-time positions. Stilwell is a city that is community-driven and focused.

Progress continues for Stilwell.

“I am very proud that more than 40 dilapidated structures that were deemed uninhabitable have been cleaned up and that our city is growing and prospering and looking better each day. We have jobs. All throughout the city there are businesses needing employees. Adair Park is a very proud accomplishment that is a work in progress, but that daily we can see great improvements,” Wright said.

Continual growth and beautification projects throughout the city are in the works.  

“Our Community Center is in the process of being renovated, our street drainage projects continue, our parks are looking great with ongoing changes. We now have a parks committee, a revitalization committee, [and] a Zoning and Planning board among some of the changes we’ve implemented. Our economic development director is constantly working with, not only current business owners, but with potential businesses desiring to locate within the city,” Wright said. 

She is looking forward to putting capital gains monies to work toward city improvements, such as street improvements, more drainage projects and other activity-related projects. 

“Not quite ready to reveal those yet, but soon,” she said.

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