PICHER -- Land acquired by the trust overseeing the state program that is moving families with small children away from the Tar Creek Superfund site will very likely contain a deed restriction preventing children under the age of 7 from moving onto the property in the future.
"I think we just have to do that," said Larry Roberts, the former state representative who is chairman of the Lead Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust, the nine-member authority appointed by Gov. Brad Henry to organize the buyout program. "Once we've moved children out of harm's way, we don't need more moving back in."
The $3 million buyout program is assisting the families because small children are most susceptible to the harmful effects of lead and other heavy metals found in high quantities within the Superfund site, particularly in the 21-square-mile area in and around the small northeastern Oklahoma municipalities of Picher and Cardin. Property values have also plummeted in the site, meaning many families cannot sell their property for an amount sufficient to recover equity or pay off a mortgage. Many families are also trapped there by poverty.
Fifty-seven families applied to participate in the program and 27 have already accepted offers to move away, Roberts said. Some of the remaining families may not have yet received offers or may be taking steps to clear up minor problems with property titles.
The program includes families who own residences that sit on leased land, those who own residences and the land they are situated on and those renting residences. Landlords are also eligible for assistance.
If all the families accept the offers, which average about $40,000 each, the trust will have spent approximately $2.2 million to move about 200 people, including approximately 85 children, away from the site. And, once the families are moved, the trust will own approximately 45 properties or residences sitting on leased ground.
"I think most of the structures we'll tear down and haul off," said John Sparkman, a Picher resident who is a member of the trust. "I don't think they'll have much value."
The cost of tearing down the residences and hauling what remains would likely run between $150,000 and $200,000. The trust will also incur continuing expenses to police and maintain properties.
"We've formed a subcommittee to decide how to go about disposing of the properties," Roberts said. "We may be able to auction some off. We'll have to see."
The trust is next scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. May 4 in the Picher Housing Authority's community room, 116 E. Devilliers Circle in Picher.