Friday, August 14, 2009

Treece, Kansas

The earliest mention of Treece, Kansas (located in extreme southeast Kansas in Cherokee County) was in 1917 when the government established a post office there. In 1930, Treece had a population of 749, that number has dwindled to around 14o. The population began to decline when the output of zinc and lead were declining. In the 1960s, production stopped completely and the miners who populated the towns of Treece, Galena, Kansas, Baxter Springs, Kansas and Picher, Oklahoma left for other opportunities in the area leaving all of the towns virtually abandoned.

Treece lays just off of U.S. Highway 69 right on the Kansas-Oklahoma border. The city is now surrounded by huge chat piles and the years of mining has caused sinkholes to spread into the city causing buildings, road and people to collapse suddenly. Across the border in Oklahoma, the city of Picher was recently given to okay to evacuate--which stunned the people of Treece. Without Picher, Treece now has to drive further for groceries and gas and they are left defenseless in a fire or other emergency, their services came from Picher. Now they have to wait for vehicles to get there from Baxter Springs or Columbus, the next closest towns. Cave-ins at the sites have been occuring for years, water is polluted, there are great risks to one's health in the area and Treece is near the Tar Creek Superfund site which covers Cardin and Picher, Oklahoma but not Treece. The government has declared Picher one of the most toxic sites in America.

Senators Sam Brownback, Pat Roberts and Lynn Jenkins have urged the state and federal government to take over the area, buy out the residents and begin cleaning up the area but currently everything is just at the talking stage. The saddest part are the children living in the area who have a higher rate of disabilities both physical and mental. The state has determined that it would cost $8 million to buyout the people and close the town. The Enviromental Protection Agency has spent $80 to 90 million since the 1980s cleaning up around Treece but there's still $50 to 70 million and many years still to go. When Picher was bought out, property values in Treece plummetted so the people can not just move--who would buy a house in a town that could collapse at any moment?

Very few of the mining companies that operated in the area are still in existance. The ones that do still exist only pay $1 for every $9 in restitution. On August 20th, three high-ranking EPA officials will be visiting Treece with Senators Brownback and Roberts with the plan to get them to buy out the town so the people can be relocated.

Photo of a baseball field in Picher, OK. By Thad Allander, Lawrence Journal-World.