Tar Creek project gets $10 million from federal highway bill

Wednesday, August 10th 2005, 6:09 am
By: News On 6

PICHER, Okla. (AP) A project to shrink the size of the Tar Creek Superfund site by almost two-thirds has the funding its needs for completion, the director says.

The federal highway bill passed by Congress earlier this month contains a $10 million appropriation for the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek, said Mary Jane Calvey, Tar Creek project director for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

``This doesn't mean we'll have Tar Creek cleaned up. There will still be work to do, but we set out to shrink the boundaries and that's what were doing,'' Calvey said.

State and federal officials developed the plan in 2003 as part of a $45 million effort to reduce the size of the Tar Creek Superfund site from 43 square miles to 16 square miles. The plan will move areas in the south part of the Superfund site around Commerce, Quapaw and North Miami out of the lead and heavy metal contaminated Superfund site.

``We're working with (the Environmental Protection Agency) on developing a process where we can issue certificates of completion for areas where work has been finished,'' Calvey said.

``We can issue those certificates, land owners and communities can say we've got land that is done, it's been cleaned up, and we can use it for specified purposes. That's going to help them with economic development.''

Sixteen square miles around Picher and Cardin, and the community of Hockerville, are located in the north part of the Superfund site and are the most heavily contaminated. That area is expected to be funded through a second phase of the Oklahoma Plan that has not been developed yet, officials said.

The former lead and zinc mining hub has been on the Superfund list for two decades. Mine collapses, open mine shafts, acid mine water that stains Tar Creek orange and mountains of lead-contaminated mine waste, or chat, mar the area in Ottawa County.

Local children repeatedly test high for dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

More than $120 million has been spent on cleanup efforts, most of it on a program to remove lead from residential yards and public spaces such as parks and school grounds.

About 40 mine shafts have been closed, about 200 acres of contaminated land reclaimed and chat has been removed from numerous stream beds and some county roads where the waste was used in pavement projects.

Officials met Monday to begin discussions on how to spend the final $10 million in federal funding, Calvey said.