Oklahoma’s Tar Creek Buyout Comes in $10M Under Estimates

December 22, 2010

A federal buyout of homes and businesses in the Tar Creek Superfund site in Oklahoma is nearly complete and is expected to cost about $10 million less than original estimates.

More than four years after the voluntary buyout was announced, the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust has approved a demolition contract for structures in Picher and Cardin, two towns at the center of the Tar Creek Superfund site in Ottawa County.

The six-month demolition is expected to begin in mid-January and cost about $1.7 million, trust Chairman Mark Osborn said.

An audit released by the trust this month shows the buyout costing about $46 million. Projections placed the buyout at about $55 million to $60 million.

Although the relocation trust shows a 96 percent acceptance rate for buyout offers, Gary Linderman is one of the individuals who refused one. Linderman rejected a $95,000 offer for his business, Ole Miners Pharmacy, which remains open on the deserted streets of Picher.

“I didn’t think the offer was really fair, but I also did not want to move either,” Linderman said. “I am a people person, and I like it here.”

Linderman said he opened his pharmacy in 1998 in Picher. Before that, he served an internship in 1975-77 at another pharmacy.

Although the relocation program is costing less than expected, buyout offers were comparable with existing property outside the Superfund site and averaged a higher amount than a state-sponsored buyout for families with young children.

In 2005, the state spent about $3 million moving out 52 families with children ages 6 and younger. Osborn said the buyouts were different. He cautioned against making comparisons between them.

“While square foot price clearly shows that the residents of the second buyout received significantly more for frame and manufactured homes than the residents of the 6-and-under, one, as always, has to be somewhat careful with the interpretation of statistical data,” Osborn said.

“The populations were clearly different, with those in the first buyout with young children probably less likely to own more expensive homes.”

Audit records comparing the two programs show that the average closing price for frame homes in 2005 was $54,029, or $37 a square foot, compared with $65,624, or $52 a square foot.

Osborn said the audit shows that the trust held administrative costs to 0.8 percent.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a primary figure in bringing funding to the buyout, said: “This is an example of a government program created for a specific purpose and then dissolves after the job is completed. This is how government should work.”

Osborn said not all structures would be razed, including Picher High School, which was purchased by the Quapaw Tribe. Ottawa County officials have received the Picher City Hall building and will use it for county purposes, Osborn said.

Picher and Cardin are former mining towns at the center of the Tar Creek Superfund site, a 40-square-mile area in the northeast corner of the state polluted by decades of lead and zinc mining. A 2006 study by the Army Corps of Engineers revealed that much of the town was sitting on deteriorating mines that eventually could collapse.

Additionally, blood sample studies have shown that many Tar Creek children had dangerously high amounts of lead in their blood.

In total, the relocation trust presented 878 buyout offers to homeowners and businesses, trust records show.

Thirty-six offers were rejected or declined, including nine offers declined because the homeowners took insurance settlements associated with a devastating tornado May 10, 2008. The twister killed six people and destroyed or damaged more than 150 homes.

Although the trust reports a substantial acceptance rate of offers, a lawsuit filed in Tulsa County District Court in 2009 remains active and involves individuals dissatisfied with their buyout offers, records show.

Before the buyouts began, Picher had 1,640 residents and Cardin had 150 residents, U.S. Census records show.

Situated side-by-side, the towns are the remains of a long-gone lead and zinc mining operation that ceased about 1971. A third town known as Hockerville is part of the buyout area but shows no population.

Even though Picher and Cardin are mere ghost towns with residents moving away, the Ole Miners Pharmacy still employs four people, including Linderman, he said. The business survives by delivering orders in person or through the mail.

“We go all over to Miami, Commerce and to Joplin,” Linderman said. “I am thinking about adding sandwiches and a microwave in the store because of the traffic we get along the highway.”

Osborn said trust members received criticism from some individuals who received buyout offers, but that most of the residents were pleased with their offers.

“What I am most proud of is that, no matter how personal the attacks became on the members of the trust during a long, emotional and trying process for all involved, we never acted in malice against any individual, business or organization,” he said.

Information from: Tulsa World

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.