OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Sen. Jim Inhofe, Rep. Dan Boren and Gov. Brad Henry announced Thursday an agreement to use $20 million in federal funds to buy out homes in the Tar Creek Superfund site.
The proposal would affect residents mainly in Picher and Cardin, two Ottawa County communities in the state's northeast tip.
"Picher and Cardin will likely cease to exist," Henry said.
Last year, the state bought out or provided moving expenses for 55 families with children 6 years old or younger.
A study released in January showed much of the area is susceptible to collapse.
"With the new facts provided by the recent subsidence report, we simply cannot risk the safety of Oklahomans in the Tar Creek area and that is why we are moving forward with this plan," said Inhofe, chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee.
The federal government would pay for the buyout, but state officials would have to implement most of the project.
Tar Creek, a former lead and zinc mining hub, has been on the Superfund list for two decades. Mine collapses, open mine shafts, acid mine water that stains Tar Creek orange and mountains of lead-contaminated mine waste are a problem and local children have tested high for dangerous levels of lead in their blood.
"We're very grateful that Senator Inhofe has committed funding for this buyout," Henry said.
He said it will be a voluntary program and officials believe "that most every family will follow suit and take advantage of this voluntary program."
A spokesman for Inhofe had earlier indicated the program would be mandatory.
Henry said there are schools and other buildings located on top of caverns "that are likely to collapse at any time."