QUAPAW, OK.---The Quapaw Tribe and the Environmental Protection Agency is teaming up to cleanup 40 acres of land once used for mining. The site is called "Catholic 40" and it has a lot of history, but has become a big environmental problem in the area. The 40 acres of land in Quapaw hasn't been used in over a century and is now filled with harmful pollution's, making it one of the most contaminated sites in the country. The structures that sit on part of the land, were once a Catholic church, a school dormitory, a water tower and another unidentified structure, then were completely covered by mining chat.
"Some structures that they built after that, there's not really a date put on them, but 1897 roughly is when all of this sort of started," said Craig Kreman, Quapaw Assistant Environmental Director.
Quapaw Assistant Environmental Director Craig Kreman says in the 1930's, the buildings were left alone after the Catholic mission ran out of funding. About that same time, people came into the area to mine lead and zinc.
"Back in the mid 1980's, when the site was first sort of discovered, they listed it on the National Priorities List as being one of the most contaminated sites in the country," said Kreman.
The metals have leaked into the streams and is contaminating the water locally and all the way up to Grand Lake.
"Area-wise, the impact, what it was impacted with, the magnitude and the extent of that impact, was so great that they listed it on the EPA's National Priority List," said Kreman.
This past December, the EPA approved the cleanup for around $2.5 million. This makes the Quapaw Tribe the first indian tribe to team up with the federal government to perform on a site.
"To actually be able to say, 'oh we cleaned up Beaver Creek', and have our tribal kids back playing in waters that their family members and ancestors have always played in," said Kreman.
The tribe's construction manager, Chris Roper, says so far they've cleaned up about 15-acres of the land, that has now been seeded and mulched. More than 106,000 tons of chat were removed. This project even created jobs for locals.
"There were over 60 employees that we were able to hire locally and put to work on this project," said Chris Roper, Quapaw Construction Manager.
"I was here when, I saw what it once looked like and what it looks like now, and it's been a significant difference in, you know, having the people here that we have to work on this project has been great," said Kreman.
The contaminants are still running off today, but Roper says they hope to have all the area cleaned up by the end of this year so the tribe can have their land back. There are still talks of what exactly the Quapaw Tribe will be doing with the land. One option is to turn a lot of the land into pasture. They also plan on finding a way to preserve some of the historical structures for people to see and enjoy.