Federal legislation would buy out Kansans in mining town

Federal legislation was introduced Friday that would provide $6 million to buy out and relocate residents in a southeast Kansas mining town threatened by ground collapses.

Companion bills now are in the U.S. House and Senate that, if passed, would provide a relocation program for residents and property owners in Treece, a town of 140 people adjacent to the Oklahoma border in Cherokee County.

The bills were introduced by U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Residents have been seeking a buyout because abandoned lead and zinc mines underneath the town have been collapsing for years.

The danger of cave-ins has made it virtually impossible to sell their land.

“That is awesome. That is really great news,” Treece resident Gayla Woodcock said when informed about the legislation.

Ella Johnston, who also lives in the Treece area, echoed Woodcock.

“It’s a good start,” she said.

The situation in Treece was detailed earlier this year in a Journal-World multimedia project that examined the environmental hazards caused by more than a century of coal, lead and zinc mining in southeast Kansas.

The last mines in that area closed in the early 1970s.

The legislation would authorize the federal Environmental Protection Agency to provide the $6 million to Kansas for a voluntary buyout. Earlier, the state created a public trust in the event that the federal government approves a Treece buyout.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius included $680,000 in her state budget to be used as matching funds to federal buyout funding.

State Rep. Doug Gatewood, D-Columbus, who has pushed for state and federal funding for Treece, said he was pleased with the efforts of Boyda and Roberts.

He said having bills introduced in the House and Senate at the same time will allow them to be worked simultaneously.

“My hat’s off to Congresswoman Boyda and Senator Roberts for the fight they are making on behalf of the people of southeast Kansas and Treece, in particular,” Gatewood said.

A similar buyout program has been under way for more than a year in Picher, Okla., which is just across the border from Treece.