PICHER - “Where is Governor Henry? We want to see his face. He needs to show up,” resident Kelly Powers told the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust amidst a burst of applause from the crowd.
Powers accused the governor of only wanting to face the people of Picher when he wanted to be re-elected and then never making an appearance afterward.
She chastised not only the governor, but U.S. Sen. James Inhofe and Congressman Dan Boren for not physically facing the people of Picher and their failure to explain from what source the next relocation dollar would come.
In January of 2006, Henry, Inhofe and Boren collectively announced plans to buyout Picher, Cardin and Hockerville residents.
At that time, Inhofe indicated that approximately $20 million was “immediately available” for use in the planned buyout. The funds were to be re-directed from the Oklahoma Plan for Tar Creek.
Inhofe said then that he was working with Congress to “ensure that money will be available if needed” and he is looking to the Environmental Protection Agency to provide the funding for a buyout of the entire site.
The trust has only in recent weeks gained access to the bulk of the funding promised - which will get the trust through a portion of the first phase of the multi-phase project that trust officials say will exceed $50 million.
Powers said she wanted to hear Henry, Inhofe and Boren explain how they plan to get the rest of the funding.
“We need answers,” Powers said. “We want to hear it from them, not from J.D. Strong. They need to come here and face us.”
Rice responded by telling Powers the many media in attendance might help get that message back to the governor.
In matters regarding complaints and concerns over low appraisals, Rice said he'd personally visited with the appraisers regarding appraisals on manufactured homes. In light of the state statute directing trust purchases to be made based on comparable housing within the county, Rice suggested, and the trust voted, to amend the language so that the appraisers could increase the pool of comparables to surrounding counties.
The chairman said the trust was trying to secure prices for homes at the maximum amount allowed by law.
Verbally, according to Rice, appraisers had been in asked not to get comparable housing appraisals in Commerce and Quapaw - both towns are listed in the Tar Creek Superfund Site just as Picher is designated.
The bottom line, Rice said is that “at the end of the day, the trust can't negotiate (buyout offers) but added that “we're doing our best.”
Of the 25 offers that have been made to date, 13 have been accepted, trust operations manager Sonya Harris said.
“We have worked several years to get you this chance. You can stay if you want,” Dr. Mark Osborn, a trust member, told the crowd. “Think hard about it before you turn down the appraisal. Politically, it may be now or never.”
Residents who aren't satisfied with appraisals are encouraged to point out their concerns to the trust, Rice said, but confirmed that the statute doesn't allow for an appeal process.
Once a resident lodges a legitimate complaint that can't be answered immediately, according to Harris and Rice, the property owner's 15-day time frame to make a decision on the offer is halted until the issue is resolved.
Harris said meetings have been occurring in an effort to convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow the trust to purchase stockpiled mobile homes at a cost of $2,500. The cost will increase to $5,000 if FEMA has to deliver the trailers.
Delaware County Commissioners have attempted since a tornado in the spring of 2006 to get FEMA's stockpiled trailers to be purchased for the county's homeless residents. Their efforts have been in vain, according to references made during commission meetings.
Harris added that federal and state officials were still working to find solutions for affordable housing alternatives for low-income residents seeking to relocate.
Angela Brunsman, a spokesperson for ODEQ, said federal highway funds in the amount of $8.613 have been released. She said corps funding was anticipated to be approved in early June.
Trust members voted that Dr. Mark Osborn would succeed Ed Keheley as vice chairman of the group. Keheley resigned last month citing other projects that were too time consuming to continue work on the trust authority.