Inhofe Praises Completed Work of Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today praised the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust (LICRAT) at the Tar Creek Superfund Site for completing its work to assist residents and businesses of Picher and Cardin, Oklahoma to voluntarily relocate and for then appropriately voting to dissolve the board on Thursday.

“President Reagan would sometimes remark, ‘Nothing is so permanent than a temporary government program.’ Last week, the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust at the Tar Creek Superfund Site voted to dissolve, demonstrating an exception to that all too common trend,” said Inhofe.

“I have long been involved assisting residents and businesses with remediation work at the Tar Creek Superfund Site.  This site has been listed as the most severe site on EPA’s National Priorities List, which required a coordinated effort to address it. This partnership included Gov. Brad Henry’s administration and now the administration of Governor Mary Fallin, as well as the University of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Tribe, EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Oklahoma Departments of Environmental Quality and of Agriculture.  One of the principal partners in the work has been the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust, comprised of a volunteer board.  I want to specifically thank current board members Virgil Jurgensmeyer, John Lomax, Kim Pace, Mike Sexton, and Janelle Trimble and former members Larry Rice, Ed Keheley, Jim Thompson, Charles Clevenger, Tamara Summerfield, and Bob Walker for their years of work.

“However, my utmost thanks goes to the chairman of LICRAT, Dr. Mark Osborn who maintains his medical practice and a volunteer clinic. He has poured hours of his time with no compensation each week to ensure the residents of the Tar Creek Superfund Site received fair and prompt offers for their properties and timely assistance.  Dr. Osborn continued to selflessly serve despite complaints, lawsuits and investigations, which upon evaluation all vindicated his hard work and integrity.  The residents received quality assistance because his of leadership and the board members’ diligent work.  Dr. Osborn is truly one of the heroes that made the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust a success.”                         

BACKGROUND

In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the Tar Creek Superfund Site on the National Priorities List due to elevated lead and zinc levels.

In 2003, Inhofe became chairman of the EPW Committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over all federal agencies involved in the Tar Creek Superfund Site, which include the EPA, the Department of Interior (DOI), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).

In 2003, at Inhofe’s request, First Federal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by EPA, DOI, and ACE, which established a unified and cooperative federal approach for the first time in the history of the Tar Creek site. At Inhofe’s request, the White House Tar Creek Task Force report was also released after it had been stalled for several months. The report evaluated proposed approaches and coordination of federal authorities to address Tar Creek.

During this time, Inhofe welcomed the EPA administration in November 2003 and the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior in May 2003 to tour the Tar Creek for the first time.

To close out the year, Inhofe along with then-Gov. Brad Henry, the Quapaw Tribe, and the University of Oklahoma introduced the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek, which represented the first time the highest levels of federal, state, and tribal governments have assembled a team to cooperatively work toward addressing Tar Creek.

In 2004, for the first time, the Quapaw Tribe and DOI reached an agreement that led to the mediation and settling of tribal legal issues without protracted litigation that would have delayed resolution for years. 

In 2005, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and DOI allowed the sale of Indian and tribal owned chat at Tar Creek.  Prior to Inhofe’s involvement, the DOI had a moratorium on the sale of Indian chat and would not approve Indian owned chat sale contracts.  

Since 2003, Inhofe secured over $55 million for the work at the Tar Creek Superfund Site. Inhofe also passed legislation in 2004 directing the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to specifically assess the level of lead poisoning of families, especially children, at the Tar Creek Superfund site in Oklahoma and to report the findings to Congress. 

In 2005, Inhofe commissioned and funded $2 million for ACE to complete a study to identify areas in the superfund site that were at risk from cave-ins, which the Corps completed and released in January 2006 and was used by LICRAT to determine the order of areas for relocation.  The Tar Creek area was undermined with approximately 300 miles of mine tunnels and hundreds of open and abandoned mine shafts.

In 2006, the state legislature provided initial funds for relocation assistance and created LICRAT to administer that program.

In light of the findings of the Subsidence Report, Inhofe asked the state to suspend remediation projects in order to reevaluate priorities and begin discussions about using that money to address subsidence, including a buyout of those impacted.  In the 2006 federal emergency supplemental appropriations bill, Inhofe authored a provision redirecting $19 million that remained of previously appropriated funds for the clean up of Tar Creek to be used for resident voluntary relocation assistance. 

In 2007, Inhofe authored a provision in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to direct the EPA to include resident relocation managed by LICRAT to address Tar Creek.

In 2008, Inhofe worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to achieve a temporary reprieve of payments on the Cities of Picher and Cardin from $1.2 million of drinking water infrastructure loans. This provided relief during the relocation of residents at the Tar Creek Superfund Site.   

In 2008, EPA released its “Record of Decision (ROD),” which is the document that details EPA’s newest plan addressing Tar Creek.  EPA acted upon Inhofe’s provision in WRDA 2007 allowing LICRAT to manage the relocation of residents and businesses at Tar Creek.  Additionally, the ROD now allows chat owners (Indian and non-Indian chat owners) to continue to sell chat in the area for roadway construction and other purposes.    

In 2010, the University of Oklahoma reported that its passive water treatment system had effectively cleaned up 20 percent of contaminants that entered Tar Creek.  This 10-pound system had been operational for about a year, and is a 30-year system designed to remove 200 pounds of aluminum, 40 pounds of arsenic, eight pounds of cadmium, 105,000 pounds of iron, 500 pounds of nickel, 33 pounds of lead, and 6,000 pounds of zinc every year. Inhofe secured initial federal funding for this system, $6 million in 2004 and 2005, in the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek.

The relocation at Picher and Cardin is now complete, which included the relocation of roughly 900 houses and other structures. The Picher Housing Authority is closed along with all federal services, to include the post offices and head start programs for childcare.   

Pursuant to EPA’s ROD, it continues to work with the University of Oklahoma to address water quality, the Quapaw Tribe to remedy distal chat piles and areas, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to continue chat sales.   

For additional information, please visit the Oklahoma Department of Environment Qualitys website here and the EPAs website on Tar Creek here.  

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