US Senator Inhofe and federal official tours Tar Creek Superfund site

Friday, June 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The battle over the Tar Creek superfund site took another twist Friday. Most people who live in Picher and Cardin want the federal government to buy them out. But they face a very powerful opponent, US Senator Jim Inhofe.

Inhofe toured the area Friday. News on 6 anchor Tami Marler tells us whether that tour changed his mind. Senator Jim Inhofe, "If the health risks are that bad, they can leave tomorrow. These are renters. These are people who don't really own the property."

People like Ron Barr. Like most of his neighbors, he pays the Department of the Interior to rent land from Native American heirs. But this house is all Ron and Opal own, they're stuck. "Well we can't sell our house to buy us another one elsewhere, and you can't rent because you have to pay high rent and high deposits and so we're just stuck like I said between a rock and a hard place."

Senator Inhofe says people like the Barr’s can move if they don't like conditions in the nation's top-ranked superfund site. He toured Tar Creek with non-resident landowners. "And we were joined on this tour by the Chairman of the Quapaw Nation, John Berry and all of his main principals."

Inhofe's tour included an official from the Department of the Interior, which manages Indian assets. Think of these mountains of mining waste as piles of cash. Asphalt companies pay a lot of money for chat, which plagues the towns of Picher and Cardin with lead-related health disorders.

Kansas buys it for roads. "We need to evaluate the ownership of the chat, the quality of the chat and the viability of any economic opportunity of using the chat and who owns it, and how would we distribute any income from that chat." But Indian-owned chat can't be sold until the Feds know which heirs own what fraction of each pile.

The Quapaw tribe has a significant stake. "You can't move something unless you know who owns it. There's a value to that, as you know." So, the chat can't be cleaned up until tribal officials determine who has the right to sell it.

Opal Barr says Inhofe's playing politics with lives. "I see he needs to represent the people, and he's not representing what the people of Picher wants."