Sunday, September 13, 2009

RIP: Treece, Kansas, population 149

The residents of tiny Treece, Kansas would like their town to rest in peace, but they need the federal government's help for that to happen. Here's an excerpt from Susan Saulny's report in today's New York Times that explains why Treece is in crisis today and why most residents would like the town to, well, die:

For most of the early part of the 20th century, this little city in the southeast corner of Kansas had the feel of a rollicking boom town, its prosperity coming from land rich in lead, zinc and iron ore. Part of a vast mining district where Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma meet, Treece and its twin city across the Oklahoma state line, Picher, became the unofficial capitals of a zone that in its heyday produced more than $20 billion worth of ore — much of it used for weaponry to fight World Wars I and II.

But when the last of the mines closed in the 1970s, Treece was left sitting in a toxic waste dump of lead-tinged dust, contaminated soil and sinkholes.
It seems to me that this story represents another example of the arbitrary nature of state and/or county boundaries resulting in unjustifiable--and unjust--outcomes. (Read an earlier post in which that theme lurks here). Both Treece and Picher are Superfund sites that have had the EPA's attention for several decades. Picher has been rescued by the feds; most of its residents were bought out and relocated, which explains why it now has fewer than a tenth of the population it once did. Treece, on the other hand, remains in purgatory. Its residents own worthless land that the EPA says can be rehabilitated by "soil cleansing," which will take about a decade. Meanwhile, as Picher has shrunk, Treece has become increasingly isolated.

As far as I can tell from Saulny's story, the only reason for the distinction between the EPA's handling of the two places is the state/municipal boundary, materially represented by just a gravel road separating them.

PS When I wrote this, I had not yet received Monday's paper in print. Turns out that the story about Treece appeared on the front page. Having just checked my sitemeter on the night of Sept. 14, it also turns out that writing about Treece, Kansas has generated about as much traffic to this blog as any single story ever has. A whole of folks are googling "Treece Kansas" right now ... I'm intrigued about what drives their interest.

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