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We Start as Water


No other words would have been appropriate for starting the 25th National Environmental Tar Creek Conference.


The words begin the poem by Olive Sullivan. As she declares, once water, we become earth, then fire and the embers of the past set fire to the stars.


That is what we did in that large room at NEO. We set a fire. Hope and collaboration and the human emotions needed to make change come to this damaged place where people I love and have loved for more than half my life are.

Before I stood to say those words, I had approached my seat and the tables I passed were nearly empty. I dared not look back to see the who should care had not cared to come. And then I turned to begin our day surprised that you had come and filled the seats and waited quietly sipping coffee.



In all the 25 years of conferences, LEAD Agency had never been on the agenda ourselves, but Jenna Randall’s Masters thesis and her declaration of our fight for the environment justice this place, our Tar Creek and our residents, was found in our community archive and was shared with all who were present.


To write about the 3 full days would fill you with regrets for not attending, but the highlights remain in my mind of the networks who had their people there for us, for you. The Climigration’s Kristen Marcell assisting LEAD and Buy-In on the Flood Survey, the Office of Public Participation’s Amanda Bradshaw brought FERC into the room with us. Imagine: all those cards and letters you are writing are being READ by people like her. People in that Commission cared enough about US to COME. Now you can begin to feel my excitement, can’t you?


The AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange’s guide to the Flood Map we have brought to you on our website inspired her to start a PhD and WE and our conferences are her thesis! AND she was there with you asking and still needing your feedback.

That’s not all.

Think about flooding here. We think GRDA, right? But there is a sliver of time that the US Army Corps of Engineers has some say, and USAC has a network too, and they had a person on our agenda, too!


Top it all off with the EPA. When smart, compassionate professionals at that agency retire… they don’t all go golfing. Some of them organized and brought their skills and knowledge of the “system” to find ways to help communities like OURS make the EPA dance differently when they deal with the serious issues that we face that have not even made it onto the plan of actions with a Record of Decision.


With great kindness and a full scope of the background of our superfund site, Jim Woolford lined out what could be a brand new course for us that could get a real strategic plan since the published one has failed because it had no vision and more than that no strategies that will get and keep “HUMAN EXPOSURE UNDER CONTROL.” Jim knew Tar Creek was one of the nation’s “Bad Boys” where EPA has failed to protect us.


He recommended to the Region 6 professionals in the room with us to go back and redo the strategies for this site and to keep the seven generations to come in mind while developing that plan. He believes, like I do, that EPA can do better for us. EPA can start over, there is even a method to do it. Simply change and amend the ROD and keep Grand Lake in mind when clarifying the definition of the site.


That is what we have been waiting for, right? Let’s start with water. And pull us together as one saying the words we will have to say together.



Fix this place, protect us, our Tar Creek and our environment, and think about us no longer as man-made irreversibly damaged goods. That’s all.


For myself, I rested easier after the week knowing great minds got nudged to do better and those of us in the room got the respect and even the hope we have longed to receive from agencies, universities, colleges and even a commission.


Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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