Date of Graduation

8-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Political Science

Advisor

Joe M. Schriver

Committee Member

Brinck Kerr

Second Committee Member

Lori Holyfield

Abstract

The Tar Creek Superfund Site is located in far northeastern Oklahoma near the Oklahoma/Kansas border in Ottawa County. The Site generally consists of a forty-square-mile area which is also part of the larger Tri-State Mining District that includes areas of Kansas and Missouri. The Site includes parts of five communities: Picher, Cardin, Quapaw, North Miami, and Commerce in Oklahoma. It also includes Treece, Kansas, and affects a total population of roughly 30,000 residents. Following Superfund designation, families in the Tar Creek area had to decide whether to accept or reject buy-out offers. This project explored the decision-making processes employed by families in response to these buy-out offers.

Twenty families participated in in-depth interviews which were designed to give voice to the residents. Two groups of families chose to reject the buy-out offer and remain in their homes within the Tar Creek area. The other two groups accepted the buy-out offer and relocated to other communities, but all remained within ten miles of the Tar Creek Superfund site.

The interviews provided individual interpretations, experiences, and understandings of the lived-experiences of the participants within the defined context of the Tar Creek Superfund site. During the interviews, denial of harm emerged as an especially salient theme, exemplified by the apparent conflict between experiential knowledge and expert knowledge. The interviewees relied heavily on experiential knowledge while exhibiting feelings of rootedness and nostalgia that appeared to overshadow rational settling, in favor of what seems reasonable to them. For the interviewees, place attachment, or rootedness, overwhelmingly trumped expert advice regarding health hazards. The majority of the interviewees indicated no feelings of urgency with regard to the need to relocate from the Tar Creek area following the Superfund designation; the majority also reported doubts about the Superfund designation, in general, and the associated health hazards.

The current findings emphasized the importance of the early engagement of community members in these situations. The interviewees for the Tar Creek project reported feelings of exclusion from the processes that were taking place in their community. To stay was easier; to go was much more difficult.

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