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EPA pledges $16M per year for Tar Creek Superfund cleanup

March 12, 2019
In a October 15, 2002 photo, years of erosion create a moon-like landscape on chat piles just west Picher, Okla. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a pledge of more than $16 million annually for continued cleanup efforts of the Tar Creek Superfund Site in northeastern Oklahoma. (David Crenshaw/Tulsa World via AP)

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has pledged more than $16 million annually for the continued cleanup of toxic mine waste at the heavily polluted Tar Creek Superfund Site in northeastern Oklahoma.

Superfund is a law that gives the EPA funding and authority to clean up contaminated sites. Tar Creek, in Ottawa County, covers a 40-square-mile area and is one of the nation’s oldest, most complex Superfund sites.

The EPA, in collaboration with Oklahoma and the Quapaw Nation, announced Monday that their plan is open for a 30-day public evaluation, the Tulsa World reported. The plan provides an update on the cleanup’s progress and establishes a framework for how the EPA, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the Quapaw Nation and the community will work together to clean up mining waste in Ottawa County over the next five years.

“This plan renews our focus, further propels the cleanup progress, and ultimately achieves greater results for Ottawa County,” EPA Regional Administrator Anne Idsal said in a news release.

The plan states that Tar Creek was placed on an “Administrator’s Emphasis List for Immediate, Intense Action” in 2017 due to its status as one of the most challenging Superfund sites in the nation. New EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler reaffirmed its position on the list in 2018.

The site was listed to expedite cleanup there and to require the EPA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to work with the Quapaw Nation to establish the tribe’s ability to gain institutional controls on its properties, according to the release.

“We look forward to continuing our work with EPA and ODEQ toward bringing back much of this land to pre-mining conditions,” said John Berry, Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.

The plan creates guidelines for progress with near-term objectives, set by 2021, and long-term moves for 2022 and beyond. Near-term goals include administrative actions such as removing 5,000 acres of the site from the National Priorities List and issuing a new strategy for watersheds. Longer-term ideas include exploring new technologies to accelerate cleanup and re-evaluating land uses after reclamation.

The EPA is expected to release a final Tar Creek Strategic Plan this summer.