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2004 - Lifetime Achievement - Ed Fite

Whenever people discuss the many achievements of Tahlequah's Ed Fite, you can count on the words "involved" and "committed" to come up at some point. But it's important to understand there's a big difference between those two terms. It's like an eggs-and-ham breakfast …. The chicken was "involved" in it, but the pig was "committed"!

Never has a river had a more committed friend and protector than the Illinois River has had in Ed Fite, now in his third decade of service as administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission. His leadership and environmental stewardship has rippled outward to have a major impact on protecting water resources throughout the state and across the region.

As a founding member of "Save the Illinois River", he was a key participant in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Oklahoma versus Arkansas. This landmark case held that federally approved water quality standards of one state are enforceable against another state at the state line.

It was Ed's work throughout the 1980s to develop a numeric water quality standard for phosphorus that now protects Oklahoma streams from excess nutrients. His research and subsequent public education about the severe habitat destruction caused by in-stream gravel mining has led to rules that now prohibit the practice within the perimeter of Oklahoma scenic rivers. This work also led the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to develop special conditions to protect streams during dredge and fill operations.

He has worked with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to exclude scenic rivers from nationwide permits that authorize activity without considering the impacts of individual projects.

Ed's long and dedicated work with municipalities in Arkansas to limit discharge of nutrients has been cited as instrumental in the historic settlement between Arkansas and Oklahoma regarding interstate pollution.

Just two years ago, he was named to head the Environmental Protection Commission of the Cherokee Nation, an unpaid, volunteer position. In July, the Tribal Council enacted sweeping legislation he drafted that conforms with most major federal environmental statutes and sets forth penalties for noncompliance.

He also volunteers his time and knowledge helping concerned citizens and groups across the state understand issues related to rivers and water quality. He teamed up with Ron Suttles of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to champion an important conservation-oriented perspective for the first time on Governor Keating's Animal Waste Task Force.

But the Ed Fite most Oklahomans recognize is the "Old Man River, Ed" - the guy patrolling the Illinois River, picking up trash, and talking to tourists and kids about it. Part of his success comes from his tremendous talent for working with other people. He never expects more from others than he is willing to give of himself, and he always seems to be crediting every milestone to someone else.

Tonight, along with honoring our other outstanding award winners, Keep Oklahoma Beautiful is delighted to shine its spotlight on the man responsible more than any other person for safer, cleaner and healthier rivers in our state. For his perseverance, his dedication and his ongoing examples of unwavering environmental stewardship, the Keep Oklahoma Beautiful 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award goes to the unsinkable Ed Fite.