Closing Down The Town Of Picher, Oklahoma
Monday, May 15th 2006, 1:28 PM CDT
The town of Picher might soon be part of the history books, now that a long-awaited federal buyout plan is in the works.
For more than two decades, the government tried to clean-up the mountains of toxic chat that surround the town. But as News on 6 Reporter Steve Berg explains, they've thrown in the towel and they're moving the people out.
High lead levels in children's blood, ground caving-in from old mines, Bobbe Burnett has had enough. "I've got one grandson that's got asthma and another one that has a tumor caused from this place. So no, I'll be tickled to death to get out of here." Burnett was part of a packed house in Picher to hear from representatives from Senator Jim Inhofe's office.
And after years of waiting, it looks like it might really happen this time. Dr. Mark Osborn with the Ottawa County Health Coalition says they have close to half of the $40-million they need for the buyout. â€œIf you can't make the area safe for them to live in, then you've devalued their property. So if you've devalued their property then you have to give them some way to receive fair value for their property and that's what the relocation money is all about."
In spite of everything though, in spite of the lead levels and the cave-ins, some people want to stay and are actually adamant about staying. Ralph Slack: â€œI'm 70 years old; I've been here for 40 years. I'm in as good a health now as the day I moved in here."
The hard truth though is that once people start leaving, officials say there won't be enough tax base to pay for water and electricity and sewer and the town will essentially shut down. Dr. Mark Osborn: "So if you want to camp out in northeastern Ottawa County, that's your right, but you're not going to have any services."
And the $150-million that was already spent on cleanup? An expensive lesson, says Osborn. "Y'know, sometimes you do something and in retrospect you might not have done the same thing. I think you can say the same thing about Picher."