Gov. Brad Henry rolled out a $5 million state plan Monday that would give families with young children in the towns of Picher, Cardin and north Miami the option of selling their homes in the Tar Creek Superfund site.
Henry said Oklahoma has a moral obligation to protect its most vulnerable citizens, and will ask the Legislature to set aside the money from the $117 million the state received last year from the federal budget legislation.
"After thoroughly reviewing the situation in Tar Creek and the many health studies related to the environmental hazards there, I'm convinced we have to do something to get as many children as possible out of harm's way," Henry said.
Plans for relocation The voluntary plan would give families with children six years and younger the option of selling their property to the state for the average county market value for comparable properties.
The plan also would help renters find and finance new rental property for 12 months. Landlords also would receive a 12-month stipend.
A special panel of local residents and other officials would be created to help oversee implementation of the relocations, Henry said.
Miles Tolbert, the state's secretary of the environment, said estimates indicate about 100 families could qualify for the voluntary relocation.
In addition to the assistance to families, the initiative would provide assistance to local government agencies, such as the school district and utility authority, to help minimize any fiscal impact from the relocation.
Children at risk Officials in the affected area greeted Henry's plan with enthusiasm.
"The state of Oklahoma can be very proud of their governor today," said John Sparkman, executive director of the Picher Housing Authority and spokesman for Tar Creek Basin Steering Committee. "I think he's taken a step in the right direction and it's a step that needed to be taken."
Scientific studies indicate young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead, which is present in chat dust. Lead exposure during childhood can contribute to learning disabilities and other health problems.
Health data indicate children in the Tar Creek area have higher blood lead levels than normal, something local school officials believe has caused a high incidence of learning disabilities among students in the Picher-Cardin district.
"This initiative is not a perfect or comprehensive solution, but it's a good-faith effort to address the immediate health problems of the most vulnerable residents.," Henry said. "I envision it working in conjunction with ongoing federal efforts on Tar Creek."
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R- Okla., is pushing a $45 million federal cleanup plan that excludes buyouts.
A private plan This past weekend, Inhofe announced a plan from the Cherokee Investment Partners of Raleigh, N.C., to buy out residences in the Tar Creek area.
State Sen. Rick Littlefield, D-Grove, said in a prepared statement from Inhofe's office that he supports the Cherokee Investment plan. Calls to his office and business were not returned Monday.
Henry said he supports the federal cleanup plan, but has concerns the private company would take advantage of the residents who are desperate to sell their property.
Area officials were critical of the private buyout plan.
"The plan that Senator Inhofe put together would give residents 10 cents on the dollar for their homes," Miami Mayor Harrell Post said. "People wouldn't even get market value, and they couldn't afford to relocate."
Sparkman said the governor's plan will give families an opportunity to improve the quality of life for their families.
"Governor Henry has taken time to come to Picher and meet with us," Sparkman said.|Archive ID: 1684981