The buyout and relocation of families from the Tar Creek Superfund Site in Northeast Oklahoma is the culmination of more than 30 years of struggle for the people of Picher and Cardin. The Picher Mining Field, one of the richest lead and zinc deposits in the world, was the site of intense underground mining nearly 100 years ago. The mining took place during a time when environmental regulations were virtually non-existent.
When the mining companies ceased operations in the 1970s, the region was left with an uncertain legacy of pollution problems that impacted the health of local residents. Children were especially vulnerable to a toxic mix of heavy metals. The lead-poisoning rate among children at one time was as high as 30 percent.
A $100 million effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove lead from residential yards damaged many homes. The region¹s status as a Superfund site further devalued properties. A recent federal study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that large areas in Picher and Cardin could collapse at any time. That finding triggered the $50 million buyout of more than 700 properties that is now under way.
Picher's Peril: Some claim buyout undervaluing homes by Wally Kennedy of The Joplin Globe (JOPLIN, Mo.) describes in detail many of the stories the Picher, OK families have with regards to the way their properties have been valued for the trust.
Though trust members and a state official overseeing the buyout have repeatedly said the acceptance rate on offers is as high as 95 percent and that only a vocal minority is causing trouble, records show the independent appraisers hired by the primary contractor, Cinnabar Services of Tulsa, have been dogged by complaints from the start of the buyout process last year.
Some residents say they are accepting whatever is offered because their properties in Picher and Cardin essentially have no value because of where they live. Any offer to get out is a good offer because it is likely to be the only offer they will get.
“It’s desperation. It’s like having a gun held to your head,” said Missy Beets, who believes her house was undervalued by thousands of dollars even after a review appraiser increased the offer from $70,000 to $75,000.
ARTICLE UPDATE: 2/23/2008 - Nearly 100 people attended an organizational meeting Saturday morning in the community room at the Picher Housing Authority.
The group intends to create a database of written examples of how they felt they were treated unfairly by the appraisers and the trust. Several attending the meeting said the appraisers hired by Cinnabar spent no more than five to 10 minutes at their properties. Others said the appraisers didn’t even go into their homes and instead relied heavily on often outdated descriptions of properties on record with the county appraiser.