Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dead Towns

The NY Times had an interesting story on Treece, Kansas, where the residents are pushing to be bought out by the EPA.  Both Treece and a neighboring town were highly poluted by the mining industry.  The neighboring town of Picher, Oklahoma was bought out.  The EPA, however, has so far insisted that the towns present different issues.  There are a bunch of property-related issues raised by the the story, but this one jumped out:

But the buyouts stopped at the Oklahoma line. Treece remains similarly contaminated, but now even more isolated. Officials in Kansas have been practically begging the federal government to move Treece’s impoverished people, mostly the children and grandchildren of old miners, but to no avail.

“You can turn and see one block away is Oklahoma, unsafe,” said Pam Pruitt, the city clerk. “They got bought out, and we didn’t? It’s incredibly unfair. The people here, if they wanted to leave, they can’t. They can’t sell their property. They can’t get bank loans to fix them up. They’re just stuck.” . . .

Mr. Stanislaus said that in Picher, the residential areas were interspersed with mining waste sites, but that in Treece, the residential areas were away from pollutants. Still, he said, the agency is “taking a hard look” at the residents’ concerns and will continue to evaluate their situation.

Such explanations do nothing to ease the worry of the people in Treece. In addition to living in fear of lead and other poisons, they lost their stores, gas stations, some public services, jobs and their social outlet with the demise of Picher.

This reminded me a bit of a condemnation blight scenario, and highlights the integrated nature of communities.  Just focusing on the issue of whether the land is contaminated misses the larger picture of whether Treece is a viable community now that Picher has been vacated.

Ben Barros

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