Delay In Offers, Low Assessments Worry Some Tar Creek Residents

Saturday, April 7th 2007, 2:37 pm

By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) A delay in offers to buy the homes of residents in an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site has increased worries about when and how much homeowners will get.

Bob Parmele, who manages appraisals for the Cinnabar Service Co. of Tulsa, said his company will start meeting next week with residents to give them offers. But Sonya Harris, who manages contracts for the trust overseeing the buyout, said that might happen.

J.D. Strong, chief of staff for state Secretary of the Environment Miles Tolbert, said some trust members believe appraisals for properties in Picher, Cardin and Hockerville are too low.

Harris said the trust negotiated with the project's review appraiser so that the company, Van Tuyl & Associates, would look back over its work for inconsistencies. The property values that originally emerged from the process were inconsistent with those offered to Tar Creek residents as part of a previous buyout for families with young children.

"I think that it's safe to say that the trust needs to be fair with those values, and we want to make sure that those people are able to find something that's above substandard housing somewhere else," she said. "I think that we owe it to those people – so that's basically what we've been negotiating."

The towns are part of the Tar Creek Superfund site, a 40 square-mile area in the state's northeast tip where decades of mining for lead and zinc resulted in mine collapses, open mine shafts, acid mine water that stained Tar Creek orange and mountains of lead-contaminated waste.

Local children have tested high for dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

The appraised property values are based on averages for Ottawa County, excluding the buyout area. None of the appraisal values have been publicized.

The trust isn't seeking an increase of the property value assessments -- as that would be against state law and ethics codes, Strong said.

"They're not just asking them tacitly to bump numbers up, but they are asking them to take another look at some of them and explain how they derived those values."

Thirty-four of 695 properties eligible for government purchase have been valued by the Cinnabar Service Co., then reviewed by Van Tuyl & Associates; 214 have seen a first review only.

Meanwhile, residents are confused and concerned.

"They've got me so mixed up I don't know what's going on," said Patricia Kerley, 62, of Cardin. "I think everyone's scared stiff right now, wondering what's going to happen."

Others worries surround funding for the project. Strong said as much as $30 million more is needed to complete the buyout as planned. Some $18.8 million has been set aside already.

Picher store owner Susie Stone said residents are bewildered by the delays and, to a lesser extent, the prospect of low appraisals.

"It's horrible, and I'm not just being pessimistic," Stone said. "I think everybody is working as hard as they can to be upbeat, but everybody's mental attitude has really sank."

A meeting on the issue is set for Monday at Picher-Cardin High School.

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