WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry (D) and Congressman Dan Boren (D-Okla.) today announced their plan to buyout Tar Creek subsidence area residents and pronounced their support for buying out the entire site.
“With the new facts provided by the recent subsidence report we simply cannot risk the safety of Oklahomans in the Tar Creek area and that is why we are moving forward with this plan. Buying out these residents and removing them from Tar Creek will eliminate a very serious risk to these Oklahoma families. I appreciate the hard work and cooperation of not only Governor Henry and Representative Boren, but all those involved in this challenge. We have accomplished tremendous success in coordinating this state and federal effort and I am proud to say that all of the projects completed to date at Tar Creek have been both necessary and successful. Today we have made residents of an important Oklahoma community much safer.”
“From day one, our only concern has been the safety of the people of these communities. With this new initiative, we will be able to protect them from potential dangers and help them get a new start on life in a safer area. I commend Sen. Inhofe for his good work on this effort and look forward to working with him to implement the program. It would not have been possible without his leadership,” said Gov. Henry.
Rep. Dan Boren:
"I am thankful to everyone who has worked so hard on this issue over the years, especially Senator Inhofe. His leadership has produced results that will get families out of harms way. Our field staffs will be working together on the ground to provide whatever assistance we can to ensure a smooth process."
Sen. Inhofe Explains the Details of the Buyout Plan:
“Since becoming Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I have used my Chairmanship to bring about change at the Tar Creek Superfund site. For the first time, Federal agencies involved at Tar Creek are now working together not against one another. Tar Creek has become a top priority for senior government officials that are now focused on removing obstacles and achieving results. Working closely with Governor Henry, Oklahoma University President Boren and local residents we developed the Oklahoma Plan, which included a number of projects necessary to clean up Tar Creek and its perimeter area.
“The work that has been done as part of the Oklahoma Plan has been both necessary and successful. The most recent project completed under the Oklahoma Plan was the subsidence study that was necessary to determine the location and extent of undermining in the Tar Creek area. That evaluation was recently completed and substantial community risk was discovered. The information uncovered by the subsidence team has caused an immediate review of our current funding priorities. In light of that report, I asked the State to freeze all new expenditures so that we can re-evaluate the allocation of federal dollars and focus Oklahoma Plan money on responding to the subsidence report.
"Since the report’s release I have had numerous discussions with experts on the Subsidence Team, Federal agencies, State officials and Congressman Boren regarding the best options for dealing with this new information. We have spent the last several weeks verifying facts, reviewing resources, and identifying obstacles that could impact any final decision regarding the Subsidence Teams’ findings. As with much at Tar Creek, this has been a complicated process that required patience and perseverance. I want to thank all who have been involved and have worked so hard.
“After the necessary review, I believe that the best alternative to address the residents at potential subsidence risk is to initiate a “buy out” and remove them from the threat. I have spoken with Governor Henry and he will now re-establish the very successful program that ‘bought out’ families with children under six years of age and use that program as the basis for the buyout of those residents in the subsidence areas. Approximately $20 million dollars initially directed for the Oklahoma plan has now been frozen. Of that figure, approximately $12 million is immediately available for the State to use in implementing this buyout. The remaining $8 million would require a change in the language of Federal law before it could be utilized for this purpose. I am working with Congress to ensure that money will be available if needed.
"I realize as a substantial buyout is implemented in response to the subsidence report, the next question then must focus on the remaining residents. We believe that the final EPA remedy for Tar Creek should begin with a buyout of the remaining residents in the Tar Creek Superfund site. I certainly do not take such a determination lightly as this area has been home to many families for many years, but I cannot in good conscience ignore these facts and the potential dangers that the subsidence report illuminates. I have discussed this determination with senior officials at EPA and advised them that Governor Henry, Congressman Boren and myself are in agreement on this very difficult decision.
“Historically, EPA has held the position that their goal is remediation of Tar Creek, but they now recognize that circumstances have changed dramatically and require a rethinking of how best to deal with the issues facing Picher and Cardin. EPA has been a trusted partner in recent years and I am grateful that under Regional Administrator, Richard Greene, Tar Creek has enjoyed a very high priority status at EPA. I have every confidence that Mr. Greene will carefully examine the situation in light of the new facts presented in the subsidence report. It is my hope that EPA will, after some reevaluation, come to the same conclusion that I have.
“We must never forget that it is the families who live in this community that are the priority. They are not Superfund "factors" or "statistics"; they are all part of us. As much as I desperately want to preserve the historic towns of Picher and Cardin, the safety and well being of the people who live in those towns are of the utmost importance.”
Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment, Miles Tolbert
“We intend to model the ensuing relocation effort after the successful program offered by the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust last year. We will defer to the local Trust to make most decisions about how best to operate the subsidence relocation effort, but it is safe to assume that it will operate in much the same fashion. This means that no one stands to get rich off of this assistance program but, rather, will receive a fair offer for their property that should enable them to secure like property elsewhere in the region. Decisions on residency requirements, the precise geographical boundaries of the assistance program, how to appraise and develop offers, etc., will be decided by the local Trust with input from the Tar Creek Subsidence Evaluation team and other technical resources, as appropriate. The local Trust will also develop application forms and procedures for qualifying residents, and the application process will be widely announced and disseminated for all to consider.
“Generally, it is our intent to make relocation assistance available to everyone within the most affected communities of Picher, Cardin, and Hockerville, whether resident or business owner. No one will be forced to relocate. However, everyone must understand that remaining in the area is at their own physical and financial risk, and services currently provided by the affected communities may cease to exist in the future. Because funding for this program will likely come in stages over the course of the next year or so, the local Trust may decide to give first priority to those that are most at-risk for subsidence based upon the recently released Tar Creek Subsidence Evaluation. Every effort will be made to secure funding and offer relocation assistance to those in the affected communities as quickly as possible.”
Additional Information and Questions
Questions regarding the Tar Creek federally funded and state operated buyout should be directed to J.D. Strong in the Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment’s Office.
Accomplishments at Tar Creek
- In 2003 Senator Inhofe becomes Chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee. This committee has jurisdiction over the Superfund and the federal agencies/departments/offices involved in Tar Creek.
- There are over 15 different Federal and State bodies involved at Tar Creek and prior to Inhofe’s involvement, they were generally headed in 15 different directions with no coordinated or unified approach. Since Inhofe becomes Chairman of EPW all federal agencies are working toward the same goal together.
- At Chairman Inhofe’s request: First Federal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is signed by Federal Agencies. The MOU establishes a unified and cooperative approach between all participating partners for the first time in the history of Tar Creek. THIS IS THE FIRST STEP IN ESTABLISHING A UNIFIED APPROACH TO TAR CREEK.
- For the first time, the top government officials with the most influence over Tar Creek tour Tar Creek at Inhofe’s request. Not only have they committed to making the clean up of Tar Creek their TOP PRIORITY, they have taken actions to follow through on that commitment. Never before has any cabinet level or sub-cabinet level official ever been to Tar Creek. It is unlikely that prior to this, any such official even knew where Tar Creek was located – now it is their top priority.
- Agreement between Republican Senator Jim Inhofe and Democrat Governor Brad Henry to take the politics out of Tar Creek and work together to ensure the clean up of Tar Creek. Together, with the Quapaw Tribe and Oklahoma University, this represents the first time the highest levels of federal, state, and tribal governments have formed a team to work cooperatively together on Tar Creek resulting in the development of the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek.
- Since the development of the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek, Senator Jim Inhofe has included provisions in 11 different pieces of federal legislation to fund and implement the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek.
- After Senator Inhofe gets involved, the Tar Creek Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) funding agreement is reached between EPA, Department of Justice and the mining companies, after years of delays and obstacles. This is a vital step needed for EPA to develop and implement a plan for dealing with core of Tar Creek.
- For the first time, the Quapaw Tribe and Department of Interior reached an agreement that will lead to the mediation and settling of tribal legal issues (long-standing tribal accounting and trust issues) without protracted litigation that would have delayed resolution and clean up of Tar Creek for years. Success is due to Senator Inhofe’s personal involvement ensuring that this is a top priority for the Department of Interior.
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior have now allowed the sale of Indian and tribal owned chat at Tar Creek. Prior to Senator Inhofe’s involvement, the Department of Interior had placed a moratorium on the sale of Indian chat and not approved Indian owned chat sale contracts.
- While visiting Tar Creek, Senator Inhofe is informed about the serious lack of available facts on potential subsidence in the Tar Creek. Inhofe immediately alters the Oklahoma Plan to put together a subsidence team (which includes Federal, State and local representatives). The team is charged with conducting a thorough investigation of undermining and mapping potential subsidence problem areas. Inhofe secures $2 million to fund the effort.
- Preliminary findings of the Subsidence Report result in Inhofe calling for Oklahoma Department of Transportation to place restrictions on certain roads to reduce risk.
- After Subsidence Report is issued, Inhofe holds several meetings with Federal Agencies, members of the Subsidence Team and locals to discuss the details of the plan and the potential options for addressing the findings of the Report.