Tar Creek’s ‘Bird Dog’ on point for clean-up, eyed for solar farm

(Image capture: Lisa J. Ellwood, Indian Country Today, from material supplied by the Environmental Protection Agency)

Environmental Protection Agency's $9M to Quapaw Nation is latest in funding to address superfund site

News Release

Quapaw Nation - Environmental Department

The 120-acre property is known as Bird Dog, though no one can remember why. What is known is that Bird Dog’s future looks a great deal brighter than its past 100 years of dark existence.

It is the 10 property within the old Picher Mining District of northeast Oklahoma designated for cleanup as part of a unique federal/tribal cooperative agreement in which the Quapaw Nation performs the work using grants from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Bird Dog gets $9 million from EPA, bringing the Tribe’s total in grants to about $50 million, so far. Bird Dog holds more than 500,000 tons of lead and zinc mining waste, piled high in gravel-like tailings known as chat.

Along with its folksy name this particular mining wasteland carries another distinction. It is the perfect site to serve as part of a larger 500-acre area for a future 100-megawatt utility scale solar farm, according to an EPA reuse assessment study (see link below).

“So there is a whole new level of excitement with Bird Dog,” said Quapaw Chairman John L. Berrey. “Not only do we get to clean up more of this vast toxic mess known as Tar Creek and prepare it for something useful, but the solar farm would move the needle in a completely positive direction as far as environment, sustainability, energy and jobs.”

In the six years since Quapaw Nation began remediation projects at the Tar Creek Superfund site, it has repaired more than 300 acres of land with more than 1.5 million tons of mining waste, and produced about 60 new jobs in the process. Its economic impact in the region has not been studied, but it’s safe to say the input would multiply into the dozens of millions of dollars.

Of the previous nine cleanup projects conducted by the Tribe, most have been transformed into grassland perfect for cattle grazing.

The Bird Dog project is within the Elm Creek Distal Zone area of the Tar Creek Superfund site and is one mile west and one mile north of Cardin, Okla. The Tar Creek Superfund site, a part of the Tri-State Mining District, is a result of the lead and zinc mining and milling in the area from about 1900 through the 1960s. The cleanup process includes hauling the former mining waste to the Central Mill Repository, just east of the intersection at East 40 Road and South 565 Road in Ottawa County, where it will be deposited and contained. The Quapaw Nation and its Tribal members are the primary landowners in Ottawa County and the Tar Creek Superfund site; so they have a vested interest in cleaning up the mining waste and making the land useful again.

The idea for a solar farm started with an increased need for renewable energy in the region largely to support a growing number of industrial/commercial consumers who desire that more of their energy come from renewable sources. The Grand River Dam Authority, a regional hydro-electric producer, has expressed interest in funding a solar farm project.

“And we are very interested in having the solar farm on Quapaw-owned land in the Tar Creek area,” said Tim Kent, Environmental Director for the Quapaw Nation. “It makes perfect sense to convert previously unusable, contaminated property into land for a sustainable energy project.”

The EPA funded the solar reuse assessment of the Tar Creek site which involved collecting information such as: the available solar resources in area, potential project size and acreage, compatibility with environmental remediation design, technology considerations, land ownership and site control, physical feature limitations, project phasing, and permitting. The Quapaw Nation acknowledges EPA Region 6, including former Regional Administrator Anne Idsal, and Remedial Project Managers Casey Luckett and Katrina Coltrain, for initiating this solar reuse assessment and working with the Nation to integrate it into the cleanup plans for the Bird Dog site.

It remains to be seen whether the solar farm will be built, and if so, whether its name might be Bird Dog. 

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