Treece buyout requests due Aug. 31

TREECE — Residents of a southeast Kansas town that was contaminated by decades of mining have until the end of the month to apply for a federal buyout.

Treece and neighboring Picher, Okla., are contaminated by waste left by about 100 years of lead and zinc mining. Treece, which only has about 100 residents left, is surrounded by mounds of lead- and zinc-contaminated waste.

Congress passed a law last year to set aside money to buy out the remaining 100 or so residents and move them to safer surroundings. The Environmental Protection Agency has allocated $3.5 million to relocate Treece residents who want to move away.

A public meeting is scheduled for today at the former Picher City Hall to update Treece residents on the buyout procedure.

Bob Jurgens, chief of the assessment and restoration section with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said people will be at the meeting to help Treece residents with applications. The deadline to apply is Aug. 31.

Appraisers are expected to be selected by late August to begin work on evaluating homes in Treece that will be included in the buyout.

Jurgens told the Joplin Globe on Friday that the plan calls for three appraisals to be conducted on each home. Officials will average the appraisals before making an offer to the owner, he said. Nonresidential buildings will likely would only involve two appraisals.

Gary Blackburn, director of KDHE's Bureau of Environmental Remediation, said a goal is for similar properties to receive similar offers. The KDHE is overseeing the relocation project.

Jurgens and Blackburn said it's difficult to know how many residents will apply to relocate.

Some residents have lived in Treece for decades or their entire lives and have developed emotional attachments to the town, Blackburn said.

"We all realize this is a very complicated thing," he said. "There's a lot of emotional issues that are going to be difficult to deal with. The trust members appreciate and respect peoples' emotions."

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