Special to Grove Sun

A moderate crowd at the 12th annual Tar Creek Conference held the Environmental Protective Agency representatives close to task in examining the impact of lead, zinc, cadmium, iron and even arsenic exposure from past mining operations in the Tri-state area and the effect on the waterways that flow to Grand Lake of the Cherokees.

The conference was held at the Miami Civic Center with seminars taking place through most of Wednesday and Thursday.

Conference organizer Rebecca Jim, the director of the Local Environment Action Demanded agency (LEAD) noted that there was hope coming out of this year’s conference.

“We have not always had hope,” she said in her opening remarks. “In the beginning there was not a lot of hope. But now we are seeing things getting done and there is some hope.”

Wednesday morning’s keynote speaker, Quapaw Chairman John Berrey, brought some insight to that hopeful outlook outlining a potential plan for gaining use out of the upper Tar Creek area in the Picher-Cardin corridor. It was pointed out in a later session that almost half of the land allotted to the Quapaw nation is in the federal Superfund buyout and is instrumental not only to the Quapaw nation but to all of the people of Ottawa and Delaware counties. It was pointed out by EPA Region 7 speaker Bryant Burnett that all waters north of Joplin, Mo. and in Cherokee County, Kansas flow into the Grand Lake.

Berrey said, “Things are moving on. People are moving out of Picher. It gives us a better opportunity to start planning for the future. The big future that we have discussed and that we are very much hopeful for is to someday flood a lot of the area in the old Keating-style wetlands approach.”

He continued, saying, “We think it would keep the metals down at the bottom of the mining caverns. If we could keep the level of the water in the wetlands fairly static at the same level we could prevent the rising and lowering of the level to keep oxygen from going down to the bottom where the metals are. That is kind of our long-range plan.”

Berrey then noted that the tribe has moved to try and deal with the federal government on making sure tribal land owners are adequately compensated without exposing them individually to liability.

“With less people there and single-minded ownership, we can move quicker to not only remove chat but to help tribal members and ultimately protect the water that is going into the Spring River and into Grand Lake,” explained Berrey.

“Hopefully in about 10 years or maybe sooner, you will see us starting to flood the area and start our long-range plan of creating a passive wetlands with maybe a mechanical waste-water treatment plant at the very south end where the water gets discharged into the river.”

Explaining the liability issue, Berrey said, “We want to get it moved out and we want the people compensated. We just don’t want them to be liable for the chat on the ground. We don’t want them to have to be sued by the mining companies or by the United States to recover costs that the EPA has spent for remediation. The good thing is that things are moving.”

Barnett began his comments by explaining the overall picture in his region that covers Missouri and Kansas. He explained that while the EPA regions are separated by the state lines, they work closely with region 6 that operates in Oklahoma.

“I live in the area. I live here and I want to do the very best that I can to try and protect that,” said Burnett in his opening remarks.

Most of the questions to Burnett and region 6 representative Ursula Lennox had to do with the distribution of the materials that exceeded levels of contamination and how it would affect water tables, ground supply and eventual flow into Grand Lake.

Burnett answered the questions by saying that every effort was being made to provide capping of the repositories to prevent leaching that would affect the water system. He did note that some of the water aquifers were “beyond repair.” No efforts were being made to restore those, only an effort to keep the lower aquifer from being contaminated.

The audience also was hopeful that it would not take 30 years to remove all of the chat from the contaminated areas, so that restoration could happen on a timely basis.

EPA representative Lennox pointed to some positive moves already accomplished in the region.

“I am really proud of what we have done with CP 223,” she said of the cleanup in one area near Picher. But she still outlined the 30-year EPA plan for entire chat removal in the distal areas.

Seneca-Cayuga leader Paul Barton opened the conference with a prayer in native language. But his remarks pointed to the natural healing of the earth and the time it would take. He urged the conference to examine the soul of the earth and not just the soil and water.

Barton commented, “Each time we come back here this way, the tribes try to share a little bit of our culture with you. Our ways, the culture, defines our civilization. In our words, we do not use ‘culture,’ we use ‘our ways,’ our Indian ways.

“Our concept of time is that Europeans brought the clock. Our way is nature and things happen when they are supposed to happen. That is our way, the nature way.”

He continued, “When the Creator made the earth He said, “Don’t think about the earth, but think about the soul.” He gave us all a soul and a spirit. That spirit lives in everything, in those flowers, in those trees, in that water, even to our mother earth. Just to think of it we are to be good stewards, just as we are good stewards to one another.

“Even Mother Earth when she gets tired, she rests. We know when she wakes up, everything is all beautiful again. That is our soul and our spirit.”

Jim embraced that idea saying, “We don’t always value these things and maybe the spirits of each of those things are trying to tell us something. Each of these plants and each of those tiny bugs even. So they tell us these things, they give us these messages to heal us and give us direction. I ask today that we think clearly.”

The conference concludes today with an action plan being developed in the after noon session. There is not charge for Ottawa County residents to attend the conference sessions.