Treece residents told they can relocate anywhere — except other places that are contaminated by mining
9 June 2010, 10:30 a.m. Updated: 9 June 2010, 12:18 p.m.
Treece Treece residents being relocated from their contaminated southeast Kansas town can move anywhere as long as it isn’t another area poisoned by mining, according to federal and state officials.
Residents of the polluted mining town met Tuesday in nearby Picher, Okla., with officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency, which are funding a $3 million buyout.
“We don’t want you moving into another mine site,” said Gary Blackburn, director of the remediation division of KDHE. “If that’s the case, you might just as well stay where you are.”
Treece was a mining town for decades, but now is surrounded by huge mounds of lead- and zinc-contaminated mine waste. Congress approved a law last year setting aside funds to buy out the remaining 100 or so residents and move them to safer surroundings.
The Wichita Eagle reported Wednesday that officials want to avoid the problem that occurred a few years ago when residents of Picher were bought out because of contamination, and some resettled in Treece and will have to be bought out a second time.
Treece residents, however, said some of the communities around Treece are also affected to varying degrees by heavy metal contamination, limiting their choices.
“I know how much it’s been undermined. You can’t find a place where it’s not,” said Emerson Fitzgerald, 76. “How are you going to define where a mining area is?”
Fitzgerald has lived in Treece since age 18 and is one of the few left who worked in the underground lead mines that left the city polluted and uninhabitable.
Gene Bicknell, who was recently appointed by Gov. Mark Parkinson to the board of trustees overseeing the buyout, tried to assure residents that many parts of neighboring communities aren’t affected by mine waste.
“It’ll be easy to figure out, I promise,” Bicknell said.
The five trustees, who met for the first time Tuesday, sought to assure all the residents that they’ll get a fair deal on their properties.
“I’m here to protect your interest. These are your tax dollars,” said trustee Jim Dahmen.
The meeting was held at the former Picher City Hall — the only building in the area big enough to hold them.
Pre-buyout, the average value of a home in Treece was $10,000. The trustees said that for residents who lived in the town before March 13, 2006, the price for homes in Treece will be based on what they’d pay for a comparable home in Cherokee County towns outside the mining zone.
For residents who moved in after, the price they paid for their house will be the guide.
Renters will be eligible as well and will probably receive about a year’s worth of rent. They’ll be able to use the money to rent somewhere else or aggregate it to make a down payment on a home.
Bicknell estimated that appraisals could start this summer and could possibly be completed in 18 to 24 months.