Help comes four years late for Treece

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Recently, the United States Congress did something.

On Sept. 14, I brought to light the issue of Treece, Kan., in the column entitled “EPA jurisdiction line leaves Treece helpless.”

Treece is a small town in southeast Kansas where a century of mining has poisoned the air with millions of tons of mine waste dust. This dust, called chat, is filled with lead, cadmium and zinc, according the to Environmental Protection Agency. The seemingly forgotten population of a little more than 100 citizens has finally been thrown a lifeline from the government.

“It’s been a long, dusty, chat-covered road, but for the citizens of Treece, finally help will be on the way,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., as reported by the Wichita Eagle.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. House and Senate both approved an environmental appropriations bill that will allow the EPA to relocate the population of the town.

Within the next 16 to 18 months, the citizens of Treece will finally have the financial means to escape their poisonous home.

“We’ll be on our way, hopefully to a bigger and better life,” said Bill Blunk, mayor of Treece.

The prayers from a small town have finally echoed through the halls of our nation’s capital. Senators and representatives from Kansas are calling this an action greatly needed.

However, I am a bit more skeptical and would like to refer to it as “action in slow motion,” because four years will have passed since a significant health and safety risk was brought to the attention of our federal government.

Until now, the citizens of Treece have been hostages in their own homes. They have been unable to sell their homes or receive loans because of significant undermining that is likely to end in a catastrophic soil collapse. Waiting four years for assistance left citizens unsure if financial support was ever around the corner.

Therefore, many could not take the risk of purchasing a new home without the knowledge of financial support. Thus, they waited — waiting as billows of chat blanketed everything in sight.

After all, the government’s role in the whole situation is one of great historical significance, since it appreciated and took full advantage of all the mined resources in this neglected Kansas town. Furthermore, it was the federal government that laid the playing field with a lack of environmental and human protection policies.

The federal government is not a hero, but rather an institution finally being held accountable for the problems it purposefully ignored.

The once prosperous and joyous town of Treece will be abandoned in the coming years as citizens move away. We can learn a valuable lesson in power and privilege from this sad story.

It is idealistic to think all citizens in the U.S. are seen as equal by our federal government. As roads were being paved in large cities and financial institutions were being bailed out without a second thought, Treece, Kan., was struggling with finding food, safe drinking water and hope.

While receiving eventual support is better than no support, it saddens me that we still live in a country where action is influenced by those who have power, allowing them privileges we all deserve.

– Bobby Gomez is a senior in elementary education. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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