Tar Creek families apply for relocation

Sunday, December 26th 2004, 4:56 pm
By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) _ More than half of the families who qualify for a state-sponsored buyout of their homes in the Tar Creek Superfund Site submitted applications prior to Sunday's deadline.

Sixty-two applications have been turned into the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust, the committee established by the Legislature to move families with small children out of Tar Creek.

The applications represent 194 people, including 83 children, said Larry Roberts, a former state representative who is chairman of the relocation committee.

An estimated 100 Tar Creek families could qualify for the state-sponsored buyout.

``I am not disappointed with the number of applications we have received, but I am certain that family ties and a fondness for the local school and the town are keeping some families here,'' Roberts said.

To qualify for the voluntary buyout, a family must have lived in the Superfund site on or by Dec. 1, 2003, and have a child who is 6 or younger.

Sponsored by Gov. Brad Henry's office, the $5 million buyout plan offers relocation funds for families living in the Tar Creek area, a lead-polluted region in Ottawa County in far northeast Oklahoma.

On Dec. 2, only 34 applications had been received.

The Legislature approved a two-year plan to fund the buyout. Lawmakers approved $3 million this year. The full $5 million might not be needed, Roberts said.

The relocation trust began accepting applications for the buyout in September.

For the most part, the process has gone smoothly, offering hope to families that want to move out to protect their children from the hazards of lead poisoning.

However, the relocation committee has struggled with denying one application.

Kimberly Conley, who gave birth to a newborn this year, missed eligibility limits by days. The relocation committee determined that Conley's pregnancy began Dec. 12, 2003, or about two weeks after the Dec. 1, 2003, cutoff date for families or expectant mothers hoping to qualify.

Jerry Waldon Jr., the father of the 3-month-old child, said the news is disheartening.

``I have a couple of nephews who have had bad reactions to the lead up here, and I wanted to move out my child for protection,'' Waldon said. ``That doesn't look like it is going to happen.''

The Tar Creek Superfund Site is a 40-square mile area that was polluted by decades of lead and zinc mining.

Blood-sampling studies have shown that many children in Picher and Cardin, two small towns at the center of the site, have been lead poisoned and possibly suffer from developmental and neurological disorders.