Trip to Treece

Maybe a firsthand look at the problems in a former mining town in southeast Kansas will convince federal officials of the need to take some action.

It appears that members of the Kansas congressional delegation may be making some progress in their quest for fair treatment of a southeast Kansas town devastated by the aftereffects of lead and zinc mining in the area.

Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins jointly announced this week that they had convinced the federal Environmental Protection Agency to send three top officials to Treece to get a firsthand look at the situation that endangers residents of the Cherokee County town. According to a press release, the EPA is considering the use of federal stimulus money to address topsoil remediation in Cherokee County, but the Kansas delegation hopes that, after visiting the area, the EPA will support a longer-term solution: a $3.5 million federal buyout plan for Treece.

The story of federal cleanup efforts in this area is dramatically illustrated in a tale of two cities: Treece and Picher, Okla. The two towns are less than a mile apart. Both were mining towns and part of a 40-square-mile area that is considered one of the worst among the EPA’s Superfund cleanup sites. However, the treatment of the two towns has been very different, as detailed in a March 2007 Journal-World report.

Because of the state line that runs between them, Picher and Treece are located not only in different states but in different EPA regions. Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a $60 million cleanup program was approved for Picher several years ago. While homeowners and businesses in Picher were being bought out by federal funds, the residents of Treece got nothing.

A recent Associated Press story reported that one of the last residents of Picher was finally accepting the buyout and moving. The same story reported that the $3.5 million buyout still was under consideration for Treece, which now is filled with “dilapidated houses, sinkholes as large as baseball fields and uncapped mine shafts.” Seventy families remain in Treece probably because they can’t afford to leave.

Even though the Kansas delegation is several years behind the Oklahoma officials who helped Picher, it’s good that Treece is finally getting the attention it deserves. It seems unthinkable that EPA officials could look at the situation in the two towns and conclude that Treece has gotten a fair shake. The first step was to get them to look at the situation up close and personal, and the Kansas lawmakers should be congratulated for making sure that happens.