Residents Of Mine-Polluted Ottawa County Town Preparing For Buyout

Sunday, October 15th 2006, 11:55 am

By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) _ Hundreds of residents of this former mining community at the center of the Tar Creek Superfund site are preparing to move away as part of a voluntarily relocation plan sponsored by the federal government.

Colleen Vandiver, 77, and Patsy Huffman, 73, each have been residents of the Picher area in far northeastern Oklahoma for more than 70 years.

Like most residents of this dying town, Vandiver and Huffman see the federal buyout as their only chance to get a fair price for their devalued homes.

``It is difficult to leave,'' Vandiver said. ``I don't want to move, but my neighbors on three sides are moving and I don't want to be here by myself.''

Placed on the Superfund list in 1983, Tar Creek has been heavily polluted by decades of lead and zinc mining. Much of the ground beneath Picher and nearby Cardin is unstable due to deteriorating mining works.

In all likelihood, officials said, Picher and Cardin will cease to exist after the buyout runs its course.

Vandiver has lived in the Picher area for 77 years, 59 of them in the same house.

Huffman has lived in Cardin and Picher for 73 years. In anticipation of the buyout, Huffman said, she is looking at homes down the road in Commerce and Miami, Okla. Vandiver is looking for a possible home in Missouri near relatives.

As a mining town, Picher peaked as the largest city in Ottawa County in 1920 with a population of 9,676. The total fell to 2,363 residents when mining was ending in 1970. Today Picher has about 1,640 people.

Nearby Cardin has about 150 residents.

J.D. Strong, the chief of staff for the Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment, said that determining the exact number of buyout applications will take time because a few residents appear to have submitted duplicate applications.

The Tar Creek relocation committee is still sorting through a mountain of mail it received before the Sept. 30 deadline, Strong said. At last count, there were 870 applications and pieces of mail.

The federal buyout follows a $100 million effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up lead-contaminated yards.

Although yard remediation and educational efforts appear to have curbed lead poisoning among children, the Army Corps of Engineers' report on cave-ins tipped the scales toward a buyout.

A state-sponsored buyout moved out 52 families with young children in 2005. The current buyout is for anyone living in the most affected of the undermined areas.

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