Friday, January 23, 2009

A Libertarian's Dream

I sent the article below to the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank.  I promise you, they will be mocking this for decades.

Children moving back to Tar Creek 

by: OMER GILLHAM World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009
1/22/2009 2:44:57 AM

PICHER — Federal funds are being used to move families with children into a Superfund site at the same time the federal government is spending millions of dollars to move families out of harm's way. 

The Tar Creek area, which is on the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list, is in Ottawa County in far northeastern Oklahoma. The federal government is spending an estimated $60 million to voluntarily relocate families and businesses that are threatened by undermining and lead contamination. 

As first reported Wednesday on, Dr. Mark Osborn, chairman of the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust, said the Picher Housing Authority appears to be refilling its housing units as fast as the relocation committee is emptying them. 

"It is exasperating to think that one agency of the federal government would spend more than $60 million to buy out the residents of a community that had been found to be unsafe for habitation, while another agency of the federal government (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) would purposely move other families into the very same community," Osborn said. 

"Apparently, as soon as we pay to relocate the residents of Picher public housing, HUD moves families into the vacant units, including families with children under 6 years old we have worked so hard to protect. I would hope that it would be inconceivable, but apparently it is not." 

The federal buyout is similar to a state-sponsored relocation project that voluntarily removed 52 families with young children in 2005. 

With the federal buyout past the halfway point, the Picher Housing Authority has recently rented several low-income units to individuals or families with children, said John Sparkman, executive director of the authority. 

Sparkman said 15 of the children are ages 1 to 15. Lead poisoning is known to affect children 6 years old and younger. 

"We are a government housing program, and we just can't turn renters away," Sparkman said. "We are working on a plan to close down the units, but it will take awhile to do that. You just can't shut this down lickety-split like that." 

The Picher Housing Authority offers 54 low-income units governed by HUD guidelines, he said. 

Sparkman is a long-time advocate of removing families from the Tar Creek Superfund site. He served on the relocation committee that removed the families with small children in 2005. 

In the past, he has not flinched at taking action to close down housing units that were threatened by undermining. In 2006, Sparkman and the housing board acted quickly to close 24 units because they were built atop mines with a potential for collapse. The 54 remaining units are not undermined, Sparkman said. 

Danny Finnerty, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said Sparkman is following HUD guidelines to offer safe housing as long as the need is apparent and until the units are shut down. 

"According to HUD, he is obligated to rent to families and individuals," Finnerty said. "You have to understand that the units are not undermined nor are they in immediate danger." 

When asked about the children being moved into Tar Creek, Finnerty said: "This is a temporary situation, and these units are not undermined." 

Sparkman said: "The safety of the children has always been a priority for me, and this is no different. We are educating the families about the dangers of lead contamination." 

The new renters won't qualify for the buyout program, since the deadline for applying has passed, Sparkman said. 

He could not give a definite timeline for shutting down the housing units. However, the federal buyout is expected to end in December, and he now has a more firm deadline to submit to HUD, he said. 

Until the housing units are shut down, they are being used to help low-income families and families affected by natural disasters, he said. 

"These units are still serving a useful purpose," Sparkman said. "We are still housing some of the May tornado victims (from Picher). There are also people from the Miami (Okla.) flood, too." 

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