Sheila Stogsdill

Special to The Grove Sun

CARDIN - On Tuesday as Kim Kuester drove to her Cardin home for the last time, she remembered the words she spoke so often as a teenager growing up in Miami .

"I said I would never live in Picher or Cardin," Kuester said. ??Those words left an empty feeling for her as she and her husband, Tony - the last remaining family in Cardin - received a check for the final portion of their federally funded buyout. ??For the past 25 years the couple have lived and raised their family in the quiet rural Ottawa County community located about two miles southeast of Picher. ??They moved to Cardin and bought their first house, a wooden frame structure, for $4,000, in 1985. After their home was destroyed in 1996 by a tornado, the couple demolished what remained and bought a double-wide mobile home. ??The Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust bought out the Kuester's double-wide mobile home and a shop building for $78,000. ??The combination of the 1996 Clayton home and the 32-by-41 shop building was almost 2,700 square feet. ??The $60 million federally funded buyout was prompted after a 2006 Army Corps of Engineers study showed that the abandoned lead and zinc mines under Picher and the nearby communities of Cardin and Hockerville had a high risk of caving in. ??Those communities are part of an area in northern Ottawa County called Tar Creek. The land surrounding those communities is contaminated by mining waste and is an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. ??"I didn't want to leave Cardin," Kuester said. ??Kuester said she was part of a lawsuit against Cinnabar Service Co. Inc., Van Tuyl & Associates, and members of the trust, accusing them of undervaluing properties and of showing favoritism in the buyouts. ??The voluntary federally funded buyout process was just a bad dream, she said. ??"It's an emotional roller coaster," Kuester said. ??"We didn't want to take the buyout. We felt pressured - backed into a corner." ??Eventually the utilities would have been turned off, and the current water quality was terrible, she said. ??"The water was terrible and filthy," Kuester said. "Our white clothes, sinks and tubs - they were all stained." ??"It's been back and forth," said Larry Roberts, the trust projects manager, about the Kuester's buyout. ??In September 2007 he received notice from the Kuesters that they didn't want to be part of the buyout, but they later changed their minds, and the trust closed on the property on May 7. ??"There were a lot of memories," Roberts said. "When she drove into Cardin, she knew this would be for the final time." ??The Kuesters bought land outside of Commerce city limits and put up a new double-wide mobile home in May. ??Meanwhile, one business and six occupied houses remain in Picher. ??Four residents did not apply for the buyout, and two rejected the offers. ??Also remaining is a county barn where equipment is stored; the community of Quapaw owns the old city hall where it maintains the water department. ??The school is being used by the Quapaw Tribe for law enforcement training. ?