EPA officially notifies Treece of buyout

04/16/2010 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 7:33 PM

The last 100 or so residents of the contaminated community of Treece learned Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with plans to buy them out.

The EPA announcement formalizes a plan that has been in the works for several months, since Congress approved a bill authorizing the EPA to spend approximately $3.5 million to empty Treece.

A century of mining operations has left the southeast Kansas town surrounded by millions of tons of lead- and zinc-contaminated waste and dotted with sinkholes and cave-ins filled with polluted water.

Neighboring Picher, Okla., has already been bought out and shut down, stripping Treece of jobs, recreation and public services.

"Coping with this legacy of pollution has been an extraordinary challenge for this community," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. "It's important that they have the support of their government and we're happy to be able to offer assistance as they relocate to a safer, healthier place."

The relocation is expected to cover 77 properties, the EPA said.

Pam Pruitt, the city clerk of Treece and a proponent of relocation, said the mood in town is "kind of anxious."

While most people are happy the buyout is coming, they're also apprehensive about how it will work out, she said.

"The closer it gets, the more I think, 'Oh my kids, they're going to have to get used to another home they haven't been raised in,' " she said.

Pruitt, a resident of Treece for 28 years, has children 26, 23 and 14 years old, along with a 3-year-old granddaughter.

With the federal decision now final, attention shifts to the state.

Kansas will have to provide a 10 percent match for the federal funding — about $350,000 — and appoint a board of trustees to oversee the buyout process.

"I am pleased the EPA is moving ahead with their plans to bring real relief to residents of Treece," U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said in an e-mail. "I am closely monitoring the process as we move forward on the state level."

Gov. Mark Parkinson has nominated five trustees to manage the process of appraising and buying out the affected properties in Treece. They are former Cherokee County commissioners John Delmont Jr. and Eddie Hamilton; former county treasurer and state Division of Vehicles director Betty McBride; and business executives Gene Bicknell and James Dahmen.

Their appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate.

"This decision by the EPA is great news and another major step forward for the citizens of Treece," Parkinson said in a statement.

State environmental officials have said the process of appraising the community's homes could begin by early summer.

Homeowners' buyouts will be based on the value of comparable property in Cherokee County but outside the contamination area. Renters will receive an amount equivalent to 12 months rent for similar accommodations outside Treece, plus moving expenses of no more than $1,000, the EPA's record of decision said.

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