DALLAS — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in cooperation with the state of Oklahoma and the Quapaw Nation, released a draft plan Monday, March 11 that advances the cleanup of the Tar Creek Superfund site.
The strategic plan provides an update on the cleanup progress and outlines how EPA, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the Quapaw Nation and the Tar Creek community will work to improve progress in addressing mining waste and contamination at the site.
“The continued success of the cleanup at Tar Creek reflects the ongoing, cooperative partnership among EPA, the state of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Nation, and local stakeholders,” Regional Administrator Anne Idsal said in a press release. “This plan renews our focus, further propels the cleanup progress, and ultimately achieves greater results for Ottawa County.”
Tar Creek is one of the nation’s oldest and most complex Superfund sites.
For decades, the EPA and partners have worked on the site and made progress in the cleanup, but much remains to be done.
In 2017, the site was included on the EPA Administrator’s Emphasis List, also known as the Superfund Sites Targeted for Immediate, Intense Action, which is a targeted, dynamic list of Superfund sites that benefit from the direct involvement of the EPA Administrator to make more significant progress on cleanup.
“The Quapaw Nation continues to emphasize the impact cleaning up Tar Creek has on our people and the local community,” said Quapaw Nation Chairman John Berrey. “We look forward to continuing our work with EPA and ODEQ towards bringing back much of this land to pre-mining conditions.”
EPA welcomes public feedback and will take public comment on the Tar Creek Strategic Plan over the next 30 days, with April 12 the deadline.
The release of the strategic plan fulfills two major milestones identified for the site on the Administrator’s Emphasis List. The release of the strategic plan fulfills two major milestones identified for the site on the Administrator’s Emphasis List.
The first milestone requiring identification and evaluation of opportunities to accelerate site cleanup.
The second milestone compelling EPA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work with the Quapaw Nation to establish the Tribe’s ability to establish institutional controls on their properties.
The EPA will present the draft plan to stakeholders and community members at this week’s Tar Creek meet-and-greet hosted by the Local Environmental Action Demanded, Inc. (LEAD Agency) and begin gathering comments from the public.
Following a review of those comments, EPA intends to release the final Tar Creek Strategic Plan by summer 2019. As the final plan is developed, EPA and state, tribal, and local government partners are committed to continuing to assess and address site contamination and to eliminate, reduce, or manage risks to human health and the environment.
“The Strategic Plan lines out a future for Ottawa County a path that will be costly but with each day's work could bring back land to use, could improve the downstream water quality and continue protecting children and their futures,” said Rebecca Jim, executive director of the LEAD Agency. “Citizens have 30 days to read this document and make comments. Many will like parts, maybe all of it, but if you see questions or want to make suggestions, we have this moment. I will and I encourage others.
“The EPA is making a commitment to Tar Creek and to all of us downstream. The least we can do is let them know our thoughts.”
The strategic plan will guide this progress with near- and long-term actions.
Some near-term cleanup actions include the partial deletion of up to 5,000 acres, amending the 2008 record of decision for mining waste, and issuing a new record of decision for the watersheds.
Long-term actions include exploring innovative technologies to expedite the cleanup and identifying additional reuse opportunities.
Additionally, the cleanup at the site furthers the commitment EPA made in the Federal Lead Action Plan by managing lead contamination at Superfund sites, thereby reducing exposure to community residents.
Every Ottawa County residential property can still be tested for lead and cleaned up at no cost to the homeowner. Funding is assured through 2023.
“Looking forward, substantial cleanup work remains and will take decades to complete,” the EPA document states.
“We appreciate Administrator Wheeler’s leadership and the attention paid to this deserving site by its placement on the Administrator’s Emphasis List, prompting immediate and intense action at the site. This is just another example of the Trump Administration keeping its promises to the State of Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner said in the release. “These funds will allow the partnership between the EPA, the State of Oklahoma, and the Quapaw Nation to continue to make significant progress towards protecting our citizens, restoring our land, and cleaning our waters.”
The Quapaw Nation will be funded $15 million a year for the next five years,” Jim said. “Progress can be made without pause with continuous funding.”
“ODEQ, alongside our partners at EPA and the Quapaw Tribe, continues to work toward solutions in the Tar Creek area for the betterment of citizens’ lives and the environment,” said Oklahoma DEQ Executive Director Scott Thompson. “The new strategic plan is an important tool to help achieve our goal of a safer, cleaner Oklahoma.”
U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) considers the crisis at Tar Creek to be “One of my most significant accomplishments, and I am glad that the EPA, working with the Quapaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma, is continuing to make it a top priority,” he said in the release. “This strategic plan is testament to the work between the EPA and stakeholders to further address the site and takes important steps to ramp up the improvement progress and provide the Quapaw Nation with more control of their lands.”