MIAMI – Organizers of this year’s National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek are celebrating a successful event and are pleased with the turnout of so many who are interested in the local environment as well as what the future holds.

The annual conference was started by the Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD) Agency, a non-profit corporation organized in 1997 with the goals of educating the community on environmental concerns in Northeast Oklahoma.

LEAD Agency is also involved in taking action to counter environmental hazards that put Northeast Oklahoma's residents at risk both physically and financially; conducting environmental workshops and seminars concerning environmental issues in Northeast Oklahoma and other areas, and enhancing their efforts by partnering with other environmental organizations throughout Oklahoma and the nation.

When asked why they started the LEAD Agency, executive director Rebecca Jim said, “There are lots of reasons, but ultimately we had to get the people with power into the room to learn so they would want to help us.

“When the first Tar Creek Conference happened 21 years ago, the LEAD Agency was a baby as we sat down with the Quapaws, the Health Department, university researchers, high school students, and community members to plan a conference. Back in those days, too many children were lead poisoned and our hopes looked bleak. There was an urgency to get action to protect children and to do that we needed to get federal and state agencies to let us be part of the solution, and talk to each other so they would help fix our environment quicker,” Jim said.

Their goal originally was to create a place, a time for collaboration to spawn, Jim said.

“We needed the diversity of our cultures to be valued in a space that provided time for It.” she said. “Each year since, the pieces look different, but the components ‘Lego’ together as we build the conference to be the vehicle to bring us closer to the cleanup of this environmental disaster we call home.”

Tons of chat has been hauled off the land in Ottawa County and that has cost a lot of money, but 800 acres have been done and crops are growing there, not chat blowing there, according to Jim.

The hope is for each conference to spur attendees to action.

“The action this time was to tell our senator he has made us mad,” Jim said “The Inhofe amendment (to the National Defense Authorization Act) was blatant and the kiss of death to the City of Miami and a promise that the next floods will be worse. What came of it? Tribes, the city, and the LEAD Agency standing together — he will not divide us, only bring us together, stronger,” Jim said.

“Collaborations occurred this time; I witnessed them and others will surface. The annual conference at Tar Creek was filled with citizens and agency people all informed and inspired to demand that this place we call home gets better.”

The Grand Riverkeeper and Tar Creekkeeper are also projects of the LEAD Agency, which signed a contract with the Waterkeeper Alliance to establish the Grand Riverkeeper in June 2003.

Earl Hatley is the first and current Grand Riverkeeper, and Jim is the Tar Creekkeeper.

They are two of only a few Waterkeepers in the central U.S., with the others being the Kansas Riverkeeper and the White Riverkeeper in Arkansas.

The Grand Riverkeeper patrols the upper Grand River watershed, which includes the Spring, Neosho and Elk Rivers, Honey Creek, Grand Lake and Hudson Lake.

The Tar Creekkeeper monitors Tar Creek from its headwaters in Kansas to its Neosho River convergence.

Of importance is the maintenance of healthy and thriving aquatic and waterfowl species on the water, and protection of riparian habitat for plant and animal species. Water and sediment quality is essential to a healthy watershed.

Waterkeepers stay up to date on the monitoring projects of local, state, and federal agencies working in the watershed and rely on a network of volunteers to assist with this effort.

To volunteer or to report spills or other unusual occurrences in the water, contact Hatley at 918-256-5269, earlhatley77@gmail.com, or Jim at 918-542-9399, leadagency@att.net

Also at this year’s conference, the LEAD Agency awarded its 2019 college scholarship to Misty Evans, a 2019 Miami High School graduate currently enrolled at NEO with a goal of completing the nursing program and plans to continue her education, pursuing her final career objective in the medical field.

Every September at the National Environmental Conference, the agency awards the scholarship to a high school graduate from communities within the Tar Creek Superfund site (Commerce, Miami, Quapaw). Awards are given in recognition of outstanding dedication to community service.

Evans was a leader in student government in high school, completed service projects with school clubs, and was involved and took a leadership role in the asbestos project, preparing outreach material to educate the public about asbestos and to advocate for its removal from the abandoned BF Goodrich plant in Miami.

To be considered for next year's scholarship, download the application at http://www.leadagency.org.