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EPA has a budget for Treece buyout

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 4, 2012, at 1:27 p.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency has outlined a budget and is taking public comments before issuing a final decision on buying out the contaminated town of Treece and relocating its residents to safer surroundings.

The budget shows the government expects to spend about $3.5 million — roughly the same as preliminary estimates showed — to move out the last 100 or so residents of this once-thriving, but now nearly unlivable mining town.

Of the overall budget, $2.65 million will be used to assist homeowners in buying replacement property and $74,000 for moving expenses. The budget also estimates $96,000 will be needed to relocate renters.

Another $265,000 is set aside for demolition of the town.

"Once residents are relocated, EPA has decided that the vacated homes in Treece will be demolished so that others do not move into the area," the draft plan said.

The town's residents are near-unanimous in their desire to move away from Treece, which is surrounded by millions of tons of lead- and zinc-contaminated mining waste called chat. The area is dotted with uncapped shafts, cave-ins and sinkholes filled with polluted water.

The city's deterioration has accelerated since the EPA bought out and closed the adjacent city of Picher, Okla., a larger town that provided Treece with public services, jobs and shopping.

After the public comment period ends March 15, the EPA will consider any input it receives and issue a final decision, said agency spokesman David Bryan.

A state match of $350,000 — 10 percent of the buyout cost — will need to be approved before EPA will fund the buyout.

A line item for that is caught up in the ongoing budget debate at the state Legislature, but Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials told Treece residents at a public meeting Jan. 28 that they would find the money somehow.

Treece Mayor Bill Blunk, a supporter of relocation, said he hasn't seen the newly released plan yet.

He said his biggest concern is for residents who live in mobile homes that were bought through home-and-land package deals.

He said he and others would like to keep their current homes and have them moved to another community, but aren't sure if they'll be allowed to do that.

The buyout will be voluntary.

Nearly everyone at the town meeting supported it, although there were a few questions about what would happen if someone decided to stay behind.

For them, life will get even harder, according to the draft relocation plan.

"Depending on the number of residents who participate in the voluntary relocation, municipal services such as water and sewer service may not be readily available to residents who remain," the plan said.

The plan is available online under "recent news" at www.epa.gov/region6.

Comments on the plan can be sent to Janetta Coats, Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA (6SF-VO), 1445 Ross Ave., Dallas, TX 75202-2733.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527.

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