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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Winter 2005 arrow Oklahoma: Clean Up of Tar Creek Mining Pollution, Ottawa County
Oklahoma: Clean Up of Tar Creek Mining Pollution, Ottawa County

Agency: (Currently no lead agency)
From the early 1900s to the 1970s, Ottawa County, Oklahoma, was the world’s largest producer of zinc and lead ore.

Today, the mining site—much of which is Quapaw tribal land—contains historic abandoned mines, historic structures, and possible archeological resources. It also is considered the most polluted area in the United States.

As many Federal and State agencies participated in or planned their own environmental clean-up projects for the area, known as Tar Creek, they were having difficulty complying with Section 106.

The ACHP is participating in the creation of a Programmatic Agreement to coordinate and streamline Section 106 compliance with the various Tar Creek projects.

Rubble and other debris are piled high in Tar Creek, Ottawa County, Oklahoma. Tar Creek, Ottawa County, OK (photo: USGS)

Many Federal agencies—including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey—and State agencies with Federal assistance, have proposed or are undertaking separate but coordinated environmental clean-up projects to remediate hazardous conditions in Oklahoma’s Ottawa County.

The 40-square-mile site known as Tar Creek was the world’s largest producer and processor of zinc and lead ore from the early 1900s until the 1970s. It was part of the Tri-State Mining project that extends into neighboring Missouri and Kansas, and includes the towns of Picher, Cardin, North Miami, Quapaw, and Commerce. In addition, much of the central mining area is Quapaw tribal land.

Tar Creek contains a number of historic mining properties, including abandoned mines, historic structures, and possible archeological resources.

Unfortunately, the area is the most polluted in the United States, according to EPA. The land is marred by limestone-laden residues known as chat (with a coarse consistency), and tailings (with a sandy consistency). The site also has polluted ponds, lead-polluted groundwater sources, and abandoned mines.

The ACHP became involved in the issue in October 2004, when the deputy Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Officer expressed her frustration with the Federal agencies’ difficulty complying with Section 106 for their various clean-up projects.

This situation led to the idea of developing a single Programmatic Agreement (PA) for the agencies’ various Tar Creek projects. Such a PA will be designed to improve the agencies ability to address their projects’ effects on the site’s historic properties, per Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

In January 2005, the Quapaw Tribe hosted an interagency meeting to discuss the agencies’ Tar Creek projects, tour the project area and its historic resources, and begin discussing the development of a PA that will outline mitigation measures for the historic properties.

The ACHP hopes that the PA will serve as a streamlining model that will coordinate the Section 106 review process for multiple agencies and projects in a single area.

Staff contact: Marge Nowick

Updated March 8, 2005

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