We were discussing the problem of the tires since mosquito season was coming quickly. The tires later caught on fire, and the fire was hard to contain. The owner was fined daily by the Department of Environmental Quality for not getting rid of the tires. As I remember it, DEQ agreed on a “pilot project” to allow the tire owner to dispose all one hundred thousand tires into the sinkholes across the street. The tires went in, but though they were heavy, if you have ever tried to lift a tire and especially one that was full of water, you will attest to that, the tires refused to sink. They floated. So then some of them were cut up to help make them not seem so much like a life-preserver waiting to be of service. Eventually most sank.
Ten years after the tires went into those “ponds” the City of Commerce worked with state agencies to fill the red and green sinkholes with mine waste. With the ground cleared there was a plan for a soccer field above the filled sinkholes. Ed Keheley spoke up explaining it was not a good idea because the mining done in that area could make it more susceptible to subsidence. He was a member of a subsidence evaluation team that had surveyed the Tar Creek Superfund site. He explained the cave-ins had been filled in but there was still a deteriorating mine cavern about 100 feet below the site. He went on to explain the mining in Commerce was not as deep as other parts of the district and could be more susceptible to subsidence and re-collapsing after they were filled.
So it has happened again, January 2017, just across the road from those “ponds” as a new passive water treatment system readies to deal with the mine water discharge that had continued from them and maybe because of that work, a new subsidence has appeared. Part of the old Route 66 has been blocked indefinitely because of the indications the road is being impacted by it.
It is important to note that all of this is happening close to the Commerce High School on what you might imagine as the back side of a large city block. Across the street from the former red and green holes are homes. Cattycorner where the tires were there are mobile homes. Go to the intersection across from the former red and green holes, for the new cave-in. It isn’t too big, surrounded by yellow tape, an SUV could fit nicely within it. Not far from the cave-in is the neatest dirt bike track, totally boy-made for kids to ride. And not far from their track is an entrance for the newly established Northeast Oklahoma Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
I do not want to be an alarmist. But I do worry about what could happen in this neighborhood. A gentleman had been examining the new sinkhole, and accompanied me to see it, saying they were pretty used to this happening though it had been awhile since anything huge had happened.
Are people at risk? How will we know? If something needs to be done to protect lives and property, who will oversee it? With all the complaints EPA has earned through the years, it was their agency that made sure residents could have a voluntary buyout in Picher and Cardin. It is through EPA and superfund that the chat piles nearest Commerce are gone. Through EPA thousands of yards and schoolyards and parks have been cleared of high levels of lead in Ottawa County. And children have been protected from those exposures.
I am going to ask Senator Inhofe to keep it coming. This superfund site can be cleaned up. Residents should know they live on solid ground or be allowed to move to safer land. Schools and kid made dirt bike tracks should be deemed safe and veterans’ last resting sites should be hallowed ground and that hasn’t been proven, but should be. Children need the everyday dust they have in their lives to be JUST dust and not loaded with lead and other heavy metals. Fixing the Tar Creek Superfund site is not Rocket Science. But it will take asking. We need to say it clearly, this isn’t over, more work needs to be done. People have a right to solid ground, clean air and fishable, swimmable water. The superfund’s name sake Tar Creek needs some help, if it is ever to run clear again.
In 2004, Senator Jim Inhofe requested a study of the potential for future major subsidence with the largest scale subsidence evaluation ever undertaken at that time, focusing on the Picher/Cardin and the Hockerville area. The regret is the whole Tar Creek Superfund site should have been accessed, public safety implications remain.
Awaiting clear answers ~ Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim