By Gary Garton
Globe Staff Writer
PICHER, Okla. - News reports about the potential for mine cave-ins are causing youth athletic leagues to cancel games in Picher's extensive sports complex, according to city Councilman Tim Reeves.
"I've been informed one league that sponsors a tournament we host, that brings in people and extra revenue to this entire area, will be canceled," Reeves told the council Thursday night.
Mayor Sam Freeman said the anxiety being expressed by the out-of-town league sponsors is related to recent news reports about what an engineer sees as the danger of subsidence in the city's Reunion Park and sports fields, which were constructed with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency over an area that years ago was mined for lead and zinc.
"They're not worried about the lead; that's never been a concern," Freeman said. "But when people start telling them the ball fields may collapse into a mine shaft, that gets their attention."
Freeman said that when the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers meets with area residents next Thursday at the Miami Civic Center, he plans to ask officials to put the issue to rest.
"Let them do more tests if they need to, but either certify the area as safe or not, once and for all," Freeman said.
Don Ziehl, an engineer with the Bureau of Land Management, who was a mine inspector from 1961 to 1967 in Northeast Oklahoma, recently cited concerns that adequate test drilling was not done by the EPA before the park was developed. He recently alerted town and state officials that computer models in a 1997 EPA study determined the ground surface in the area was "likely to eventually collapse."
Freeman said Thursday night that he has been inside the mine drifts cited by the engineer.
"There are plenty of support pillars down there, and the area has shown no surface indications of possible cave-ins," he said.
"The EPA contractors parked heavy equipment out there while they were doing yard remediation, and there were heavy machines all over the place when the work on the parks was being done. There was once a chat pile that probably weighed 2 million tons sitting on top of part of one of those parks."
Frank Wood, an area resident who is director of the Picher Mining Museum, said during the discussion that he believes further testing should be done.
"I disagree about those support pillars," he said. "I was down there too, and a lot of them were cut out by the wildcat mining that occurred after the main mines closed."
In other business Thursday night, the council donated a 1979 pumper firetruck to the Wyandotte Volunteer Fire Department. It has been replaced in the Picher department's inventory, but has not been sold because of its low trade-in or resale value.
It will replace a pumper truck that recently had mechanical problems, leaving the Wyandotte department without a pumper.
By Gary Garton