TREECE — Potential contamination from heavy minerals and the ever-present danger that homes could be swallowed by a sinkhole aren't enough to make some residents leave the southern Kansas mining community of Treece.
Neither are the proposed federal buyouts, which are sharply lower than what's being offered to relocate residents from neighboring Picher, Okla., because of the waste left after a century of lead and zinc mining in the area. The Environmental Protection Agency has allocated $3.5 million for the buyout.
Some of the 100 remaining Treece residents said that they like living in the community and don't plan to leave. Others said the compensation they have been offered through the Treece Relocation Assistance Trust isn't enough.
"We know that people have preconceived notions about Treece," said Pam Pruitt, who has served as the town's clerk. "What they don't understand is that the people who live here choose to be here."
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Mayor Bill Blunk said Treece residents are being offered $27 to $29 per square foot for their properties, while those in Picher are getting $35 to $52 per square foot. He attributed the difference to the number of mobile homes in Treece.
About 20 property owners and renters have accepted offers, while about a half-dozen have informed the trust they're staying put. The trust still has 50 to 60 cases to handle, including renters.
"Many of the people who have accepted their offers are not happy with them, but they can live with it," Blunk said. "A lot of people are pointing fingers at the trust, but it's not really the trust that's to blame. It falls back onto the appraisals, and there is nothing the trust can do about those."
Even town council members are torn by the thought of leaving.
"It got to me really bad," said Jan Leatherman, a council member. "I've cried about leaving. It's a different culture here, but they are good people. They work hard."
Clifford Carter said he won't be moving from his conventional home because the buyout offered to him wasn't enough.
"We ain't selling," he said. "The cheapest place we found was $40,000 in Baxter Springs. They came nowhere near that with their offer. We are not accepting."
Teresa Palmer, another Treece resident, said she would have to go deeper into debt to move, but she doesn't have any choice.
"They gave us enough to pay off our trailer, but not enough to make a down payment on a house," she said. "We have looked for houses elsewhere in Columbus, Weir and Chetopa. The cheapest one I found was $49,900."
Blunk and his wife, Judy, haven't decided whether they will leave the community where they live in a double-wide mobile home on a large lot.
"We are torn up about it," Judy Blunk said. "We can't decide whether we want to leave our home or move it to a new piece of land. A lot of people here are facing the same thing. We don't want to go further into debt to be able to move."