Relocation Assistance Becoming Available for Treece, Kansas

Posted on Jan 27 2010 - 11:00am by Winnie Hsiu

This week, the Kansas state Department of the Environment (KDHE) announced that it will hold a meeting Thursday, at 6 p.m., in the old Picher City Hall to discuss relocation assistance with residents of Treece, Kansas. The meeting will include a status update from the federal Environmental Protection Agency detailing what progress has been made with the relocation and with plans to buy out property from the residents. “KDHE is setting up this meeting to talk to the residents to see who is interested,” Bob Jurgens, a KDHE section chief, explained. “We also need to determine a timeline for the buyout.” At the meeting, Treece residents will also be able to ask questions about the buyout process, Treece’s status as a Superfund site, and studies related to it.

Treece, Kansas is in the process of relocating because years of mining have left the town uninhabitable. Treece used to be a booming mining town. Treece and its twin city across the Oklahoma state line, Picher, which fall within an area known as the Tri-State Mining District, together produced more than $20 billion worth of lead, zinc, and iron. Much of it was used to make weapons during World Wars I and II. But those mines are long gone. They closed in the 1970s, and what’s left of Treece is not fit for human habitation. Since the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to clean up Treece and Picher, which both became Superfund sites. (Superfund sites are sites that the EPA is trying to clean up because they contain hazardous waste.) The town is surrounded by large piles of mining waste, called chat, and contains many pockets of polluted water in old, uncapped mining shafts and places where there have been cave-ins. Tests showed that residents of Treece have unusually high levels of lead in their blood. However, about 140 people still live there. 

The federal government bought out and relocated the town of Picher (population 1,800), but at first it left behind equally contaminated Treece. Last October, though, Congress finally gave the EPA a budget to use to buy out the town and relocate Treece. The relocation will cost about $3.5 million. Since then, the EPA has been reviewing Treece’s situation. A few days ago, the EPA wrote to Kansas state officials asking the state to agree to pay for one-tenth of the move and to appoint officials who can supervise the relocation. Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson had already put $350,000 for the Treece relocation in the budget he proposed to the Kansas legislature.

There are about 77 buildings in Treece, but the KDHE is not sure how many people still live there. “We did an inventory of the town and we are still trying to figure out how many people are still there,” said Jurgens. “We figure there may be around 100 residents right now.” 

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, helped arrange the addition of the Cherokee County Superfund Project to the 2010 Interior Appropriations Conference Report. Roberts commented that the meeting should be very helpful for current Treece residents. “I am pleased the EPA and KDHE are working to advance the relocation process, which could be a long-term solution for the residents of Treece,” he said. “Setting up the trust and holding public meetings are important steps to give these folks hope.”