Tar Creek Remediation Plans Include Relocation

Friday, February 22nd 2008, 1:18 pm
By: News On 6

There is great news for those living in the polluted Tar Creek Superfund site.  The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday it's paying for all residents to move out of the area.  The plan signals the end of yearly battles to find money for the buy-out.  But some say the plan still leaves questions.

Nearly a thousand people still call Picher home. Gene Newton's wife grew up in the Ottawa County mining community; it's why they moved there four years ago.

"My wife has lived here off and on. She's a fourth generation," said Newton.

But the Newton's may not have Picher much more. The EPA says it now has the money to buy-out all the residents there and those living in the Tar Creek Superfund site.

Senator James Inhofe helped find the permanent fu nding and end the need for asking for more money every year.

"We've worked on this for eight years and we wouldn't be at this point without Senator Inhofe," said John Sparkman, Picher Housing Authority.

The problem stems from decades of mining in the Tar Creek area. Mountain size piles of lead contaminated mine waste, called chat, have helped pollute the region's water supply. 

"It's not a healthy place and it's not a safe place to live," said Sparkman.

Sparkman has been leading the charge for a buyout since the mid-90's. He's thrilled the EPA has finally decided help people leave the area, but he's worried about what happens to the land after everyone is gone.

Sparkman says past remediation plans such as diverting Tar Creek, plugging mine shafts, and the replacing of contaminated soil from around homes hasn't worked. He says the EPA is just throwing money at the problem without having a plan and says the same could happen with the buyout.

Newton agrees, saying he's already seeing it.

"Some people are offered twice what their places and stuff are worth. Other peoples have got nothing for what their property was worth and there's just no justice in it at all," said Newton.

The total price tag for the plan is $167 million.

Besides buying out the homes, it includes removal of the chat piles and clean-up of the soil and water.