Foes of drug rehab center take battle to state
Arrowhead trustees write to health official
Saturday Oklahoman, 10 June 2000
The state Health Department refused Monday to reconsider its approval of a Narconon drug rehabilitation center's plans to move to Arrowhead Lodge.
The 75-bed Narconon Chilocco New Life Center in Newkirk plans to move and expand to as many as 300 beds at Arrowhead Lodge, near Canadian in Pittsburg County.
Claiming to represent 1,300 property owners, elected trustees of nearby Arrowhead Estates had asked the department May 31 to conduct a public hearing. Trustees wanted the state to revoke a certificate of need granted to Narconon on May 2.
But in a two-page order Monday, acting Health Department Commissioner Jerry Regier denied the trustees' request based on their "failure to show good cause for reconsideration."
The trustees argue that the "proposed facility's relocation will cause residents problems with security and that the community is not suited to a rehabilitation center," Regier wrote.
"However, the petitioner's argument regarding possible community changes, in light of the comments of other residents, does not demonstrate good cause for reconsideration."
Sheryl Patterson was among Arrowhead Estates residents who wrote to Regier after learning of the trustees' letter.
"It certainly does not speak for the body of homeowners," Patterson wrote. "Many of us are delighted that the beautiful old lodge has been bought by a reputable private-pay rehabilitation center and that a budget is in place to bring this great old facility back to life.
"It's been a disgrace and a tragedy seeing it in its present state of neglect."
Gary Smith, executive director of the Narconon Chilocco New Life Center, said Regier's action pleased him.
"What it signifies to us is that now we can just get on with creating the facility here to help meet the increasing needs for our services from people that have drug and alcohol addiction problems," Smith said.
Arrowhead Estates trustee Bud Shaw said he was disappointed in the state's refusal to allow a public hearing.
"It seems like big business gets what they want," Shaw said. "I guess we're just going to accept it and move on.
"Maybe down the road, we'll be able to say, 'We told you so.'"
An international group with ties to the Church of Scientology bought the 256-acre resort property May 17 and plans to lease it to Narconon.
The Choctaw Nation bought Arrowhead from the federal government in 1985 after the state failed to pay back a loan used to build the Lake Eufaula resort in 1965. The Choctaws announced in 1998 that they were selling the property, where they operated a hotel gaming center.
In a May 31 letter to the health department, Arrowhead Estates trustees Shaw and Lois Hartman wrote, "There are a number of things that trouble us about the move of Narconon to Arrowhead Lodge."
Shaw and Hartman, a majority of the three-member board, cited a petition signed by more than 100 residents.
But Smith claimed more than 200 property owners, nearly half of them from Arrowhead Estates, signed a petition supporting Narconon's plans.
Smith faxed The Oklahoman a news release that said Narconon "received a warm round of applause from the nearly 100 homeowners of Arrowhead Estates... at this year's annual homeowners meeting and fish fry," which was Saturday night.
Responded Shaw, who introduced Smith at the fish fry: "I apparently slept through the round of applause."