Amid criticism of stalled cleanup efforts, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt and other government officials toured flood-ravaged Coffeyville, where a refinery oil spill coated entire neighborhoods in slimy crude oil.
Tiahrt told The Associated Press on Friday that his concerns about the pace of the cleanup efforts were quelled after the tour. The Kansas congressman praised the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts but criticized the response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Verdigris River topped its banks on June 30 and July 1 and flooded a third of Coffeyville - inundating the refinery there. A malfunction while workers were attempting to shut down the Coffeyville Resources plant led to about 71,000 gallons of oil leaking into the floodwaters, further complicating citywide efforts to recover.
Tiahrt, R-Kan., said he came after receiving a complaint from Coffeyville Mayor Virgil Horn about the slow pace of cleanup efforts.
Tiahrt was accompanied by Stephen L. Johnson, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; John Askew, EPA Region 7 administrator; and other state and local leaders.
"There are real signs of progress down here," Tiahrt said in a telephone interview. "The current frustration is that before they get to the demolition stage, they have to determine which houses have asbestos."
After the tour, Tiahrt said he and local officials were satisfied by the pace at which Coffeyville Resources is inspecting houses for asbestos. He said it was a good sign that demolition of damaged houses will start within a couple of weeks.
But Tiahrt was less complimentary of the response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A few families have yet to receive checks from the agency, months after the disaster, he said.
"I am not as satisfied with FEMA as I have been with EPA," Tiahrt said. "FEMA has delayed payments."