Keating urges federal officials to explore Tar Creek options

Thursday, March 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Turning the Tar Creek Superfund site into a vast wetlands appears to be the only viable solution to addressing contamination that threatens public health, Gov. Frank Keating says.

Keating and state Environment Secretary Brian C. Griffin briefed members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., Monday about the site in the state's northeast corner.

The governor also briefed U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton and other members of the Bush administration about the 1,300 open mine shafts, 300 miles of caverns, threats of collapses, chronic flooding and mountains of lead-laden mine waste.

``I think they were surprised by what I was telling them,'' the governor told the Tulsa World's Washington, D.C., bureau. Keating was in Washington, D.C., for the annual National Governors Association meeting.

Griffin said the latest collapse and its resulting sinkhole came days ago just a thousand yards from the high school that serves the communities of Picher and Cardin.

Forty percent of the children in the area also have levels of lead in their blood that are 10 times the national average, he said.

A task force led by Griffin has recommended turning the area into a wetlands, requiring the relocation of residents in Picher and Cardin. Griffin has touted the plan as an economical solution, considering it would cost as much as $61 billion to tackle individual problems at the site.

Keating said Monday that failing to consider relocating the towns would be ``reckless and irresponsible.''

The Tar Creek site ``is a serious threat to public health,'' he said.

Keating also reminded federal officials that the site is not limited to Oklahoma. Southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri also are part of the former lead and zinc mining region that created the waste.

``It is a multi-state hazard that is a challenge to future economic development and to the health and welfare to the citizens in the area,'' Keating said. ``We need a multistate solution . . . We need to develop a partnership with the federal family looking to a series of potential solutions, including making that a magnificent wetlands for the purpose of waterfowl migration, tourism and recreation.''

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began removing lead-contaminated soil from thousands of residents' yards in the site in 1995.