Federal officials assure Treece, Kan., residents buyouts will happen

TREECE — Kansas and federal officials assured residents of this toxic town Thursday that government efforts to buy their property and move them out will proceed somehow, even if state lawmakers don't approve $350,000 for the state's part of the buyout.

The state money is the final potential obstacle to buying out the approximately 100 people who still live in Treece, a southeast Kansas town surrounded by millions of tons of lead- and zinc-contaminated mine waste known as chat.

The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to pay for 90 percent of the estimated $3.5 million it will cost to relocate the residents of Treece, but the state's 10 percent is on a list of potential cuts if lawmakers don't increase taxes to close a $400 million budget gap.

However, at a meeting Thursday at the former City Hall of Picher, Okla., Bob Jurgens, a section chief of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, told residents their buyout is a "high priority."

He sought to quell residents' concerns that the buyout will stop because of a lack of state funding.

"If the $350,000 gets cut out of the state budget, we'll find ways to go forward," Jurgens said. "We'll do what we need to, to go find it (money) to keep things moving."

Treece has no building large enough to accommodate the approximately 80 people who attended the meeting, so it was held in Picher, a ghost town just across the state line from Treece. It already has been bought out by the EPA and almost completely emptied of residents.

Both towns are surrounded by huge piles of chat and dotted with abandoned mine shafts, sinkholes and cave-ins filled to surface level with toxic water.

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