Research, which began as part of a summer internship, has grown into a project slated to debut at the 19th Annual National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek this week in Miami.

McKaylee Steen, a 2015 graduate of Grove High School, will present "A Fight for Honey Creek," on Wednesday, as part of the conference.

She began compiling the information, on how a group of Delaware county residents came together in the mid-1990s, early 2000s, to save Honey Creek, while interning this summer for the L.E.A.D. agency and conference organizer, Rebecca Jim. 

The presentation follows a group of residents - which included Steen's parents and grandparents - and documents the efforts the residents took to reclaim the watershed from pollutants.

The initiative came after leaks of chicken waste from the nearby Simmons poultry plant in Southwest City, Missouri, dumped pollutants into the nearby Cave Springs creek, which eventually feeds into Honey Creek and then Grand Lake.

Steen, who was an infant at the time of much of the fight, said she wanted to document how her parents, grandparents and others who lived along Honey Creek developed the Concerned Citizens of Green Country and worked to get remediation for the creek.

"It was amazing how they got things done in a relative short amount of time," Steen said, adding the group's actions included letter writing campaigns to state officials in both Missouri and Oklahoma, and building awareness in local and regional media outlets.

"They worked to get everybody's attention," Steen said. "It was inspiring. They put their lives on hold to pursue justice for what had been done to the creek."

The group later filed a lawsuit, on behalf of 23 families who were directly impacted by the pollutants.

The suit, later settled out of court, provide the families with funding to repair their well systems - because the polluted Honey Creek got into the groundwater, which impacted the various wells.

The lawsuit also required Simmons to add a member of the citizen's action group, to its board of directors, in an effort to help keep the business' policies environmental healthy. 

"It's an amazing story," Steen said. "Of how citizens, acting with diligence, made sure they got things done.

"Who knows where the creek would be today, if they hadn't done this. They are a great example and very inspiring."

Steen hopes to eventually turn her research into a book of short stories. She said the story goes beyond northeast Oklahoma, because it shows an example of how residents fought for clean water.

"I think there are a lot of fights for clean water, be it Tar Creek or Flint, Michigan, or Honey Creek," Steen said. "This was an example of a successful campaign."

Steen said she is proud to speak at this year's Tar Creek conference. A benefactor, Linda Sue Warner, helped provide Steen with the funds to return from college for the event.

More about Steen

Steen is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is working towards a degree in Earth and Environmental Science, with an interest in pursuing a career involving environmental research or environmental law.

She is the daughter of Kelli Steen, a science teacher at Gravette Middle School, in Gravette, Arkansas, and the late Tom Steen.

 More about the conference

The conference, which began on Monday, continues until Wednesday, Sept. 27 in the college student union at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami.

The event's theme, "Climate of Denial," is designed to bolster community education and activism related to regional and national environmental issues.

Remaining events include the two day of conferences, which take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the student union on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those sessions include: 

• Tar Creek Superfund Site Updates

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency & Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Tim Kent and Craig Kreman with Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, Ed Keheley on 10 Myths of Tar Creek and 'My Tar Creek,' and Jason Beldon 'Snails & Song Birds at Tar Creek.'

• Human Health Impacts

Dr. Edd Rhoades with OK Department of Health, Lissa James with Grand Lake Mental Health, Dr. Robert O. Wright on Project MATCH, Dr. Edward Gustavson as a pediatrician, and Shawn West with Cherokee Nation.

• Water Quality

Kelly Hunter Foster with Waterkeeper Alliance, Dr. Robert Nairn from OU, Richard Zamor & Dr. Darrell Townsend from Grand River Dam Authority, William Andrews from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

• Earthquakes Connected to the Oil & Gas Industry

Matt Skinner from Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Jeremy Boak from Oklahoma Geological Survey, Johnson Bridgewater from Oklahoma Sierra Club on Alternative Energy.

• Environmental and Social Justice

Tonya Bonitatibus Savannah Riverkeeper, Jim Wikel on Pipeline Resistance, Dan Clark on "Crime & Lead Poisoning," and Steen on "A Fight for Honey Creek."

Breakout Groups during the conference program will include Greg McCann for Yoga sessions and reflections, and Kelda Lorax with Stardust Market Garden on "Growing Safe Food in Toxic Areas."

Admission is $100 for non-Ottawa County residents, with scholarships available through the L.E.A.D. Agency office.

For more information or to register, persons interested may visit www.leadagency.org or call 918-542-9399.