PICHER, Okla. (AP) - The panel in charge of a federally funded buyout of homes located within the TarCreek Superfund Site has stopped making offers to homeowners because of a lack of funding, an official said.
The Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust has suspended buyout offers until additional federal money becomes available, said J.D. Strong, chief of staff for the Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment. Appraisals and offers in progress will continue, Strong said.
The relocation has about $18.8 million on hand but needs $30 million more to fully fund the two-year plan.
About 700 homes, businesses and public-use facilities could qualify for the buyout, but the trust only has enough funding on hand to purchase about 289 homes and business, said Larry Roberts, operations manager for the relocation committee.
“Besides the funding situation, every day brings new challenges and we are trying to meet those challenges as they arise,” Roberts said.
The former lead and zinc mining hub has been on the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list for two decades. Mine collapses, open mine shafts and acid mine water that stains TarCreek orange plague the 40 square-mile area of Ottawa County in Oklahoma's northeastern tip.
While the buyout offers have been stopped, the relocation effort will continue for those who have received offers.
Currently, 209 offers have been made, with residents accepting 178 offers. There have been 115 closings in which residents have signed over their homes or businesses to the trust committee in exchange for their buyout offer. Nine TarCreek residents have rejected their offers, Roberts said.
The buyout offers could begin again within 90 days to six months, said Mark Osborn, vice chairman of the trust.
The Water Resources Development Act, a legislative measure now before President Bush, would free up more than $3 million that could be used for buyout offers, Osborn said.
“If President Bush signs the legislation that is on his desk now, you could see us begin making offers again sooner than later,” Osborn said.
But Bush has said he plans to veto the bill, which also would authorize future funding for the TarCreek Project.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has pledged to secure the $30 million needed to complete the buyout plan.