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Reclamation Project Begins in Ottawa County

(From left) Senator Rick Littlefield examines soil sampled from under removed chat, shown to him by Mike Sharp, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, as Mark Detherage, Ottawa County Conservation District director, looks on.

(From the Miami News-Record, used by permission)

By Krista Duhon with staff reports, Miami News-Record

Lena Enochs said Thursday she could not be more pleased with the land reclamation project on a 14- acre tract of property.

“ It is much more than we ever hoped for,” Enochs said. The Enochs family has lived on the north side of Commerce since the 1940s on property that the couple inherited from Lena Enochs’ parents.

For decades, the property has been nothing more than a reminder of the former mining era that once prospered in Commerce, Picher and Cardin. When miners pulled out in the 1920s, they left behind about 2 feet, or 27,000 cubic yards, of lead contaminated mine tailings spread across the acreage, two open mine shafts, a mill pond and unstable ground that would eventually lead to two areas of subsidence — all which will be repaired.

On Aug. 16, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) launched the Enochs project — its second reclamation project within the Tar Creek Superfund area. The U.S. Department of Argiculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is providing funds for the reclamation as OCC coordinates its reclamation efforts with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The City of Commerce Public Works Division has contracted with OCC to perform the actual reclamation work.

As dump trucks carry tons of contaminated soil off of the land and workers attempt to push years of mining waste off of good soil more than 2 feet below, Commerce’s past year of large equipment purchases is paying off.

“ This is a good project for the City of Commerce,” said Commerce Mayor Jim Mullen, “and I am very glad that it is happening.”

Mining activities from before 1927 to the late 1940s and early 1950s left large quantities of mine tailings or “chat,” scattered in and around Ottawa County in northeast Oklahoma. OCC completed its first project in the Tar Creek Superfund site last year. The state Legislature appropriated funds from the state’s Constitutional Reserve, also called the Rainy Day Fund, during the 2002 legislative session for a pilot project. OCC completed the McNeely Project, a 52-acre site near Hockerville, two miles east of Picher, in November 2003.

On the Enochs’ property, debris cleared from the site is being used to fill in what Commerce residents refer to as “the green hole,” a sink hole on city property near the south side of town.

State Sen. Rick Littlefield and State Rep. Larry Roberts were helpful in getting an appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund in 2002 that paid the $17,945 design cost for the Enochs project. Funding for the actual reclamation is provided through federal money secured by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, part of which was directed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for land restoration. NRCS and OCC formed an agreement for OCC’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program to oversee the reclamation and remediation in this project. OCC was able to provide funds from that agreement to allow the city of Commerce to carry out the work. OCC is overseeing site selection, design, working with landowners, monitoring and inspection. The city of Commerce and OCC have projected the cost of the construction to be $167,899.50.

“ This is what can happen when we all work together,” Littlefield said Thursday as he toured the site. “I am impressed with what I see here today and I will be back to see it at its completion. This is a great project.”

After the project is completed, the Ottawa County Conservation District is looking forward to helping the landowners develop a comprehensive conservation plan for the property, said Mark Detherage, chairman of the Ottawa County Conservation District. The plan will include components for restoring vegetation and returning the land to a state more closely resembling its condition before the mining began.

The Enochs project is the first step in a larger project, now in the design phase, which will encompass the western portion of Commerce.