As a child, Richard Martinous swam in Joplin’s water-filled Bullfrog Mine.
So did Dennis Neely.
Now, decades later as adults, the two men are at odds over the mine.
The old lead and zinc mine, southeast of the intersection of Tyler and Perkins Avenue, is tucked away in a residential neighborhood that grew up around it. The mine is hidden behind some houses, only accessible by a gravel road that was put in after Neely, who owns the mine, purchased a nearby lot to keep his property from becoming landlocked. Felled trees line the property, but there is no fence. There are “No Trespassing” signs on an access gate that is sometimes open.
Martinous is concerned that debris from the tornado-ravaged St. John’s Medical Center, which is being dumped into the mine next to the house his parents have owned since 1957, is creating some health and safety hazards for the neighborhood. Residents said they have seen up to 60 truckloads of debris a day hauled to the site.
“It would take 20 St. John’s to fill that mine,” Martinous said recently as he walked his parents’ property line near the mine. “We’re all for having the hole filled, but do it right.”
His parents, Mose and Kathy Martinous, 1914 Perkins Ave., as well as some other neighbors, worry about the dust created by the increased traffic in their quiet neighborhood and the lack of fencing around the perimeter of the mine.
Steve Gardner said his family probably wouldn’t have purchased land at 315 N. Tyler Ave., next to Bullfrog Mine, if they had known dumping was going to start there in the months following the storm. But their previous home was destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado, and they needed a place. Now, the Gardners listen to the sounds of trucks rolling in and out of the site, filled with debris created by the storm.
“Nobody likes it. Nobody probably even disputes that the hole needs to be filled and they seem to be permitted by the city and the state,” Gardner said. “It’s one of those deals that you can’t fight city hall.”
“The city, every time you call and complain about (the dust), they go, ‘Well, they’re supposed to have a water truck to keep the dust down.’ It literally depends on which way the wind blows who catches the most hell that day.’
Another neighbor, Cole Osborne, 414 N. Tyler Ave., has a 19-month-old daughter and worries about her playing outside because of the increased traffic and because there is no fence around the mine.
“It’s not a quiet neighborhood anymore,” Osborne said. “It feels like you’re living by a dump.”
‘DUCKS IN A ROW’
Neely is equally frustrated with the neighbors.
“I’ve been dealing with them for weeks on end,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I have all the right documentation, have the DNR approval, approval from the mining company. I have all my ducks in a row ... I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live next to a mine shaft.”
Neely bought the property more than eight years ago and in addition to St. John’s debris, he said he uses the mine for other concrete material and allows other contractors to dump clean fill there for a fee.
He also allowed clean fill to be dumped there before the tornado, but the volume has ratcheted up since the storm.
He also accepted concrete from the former Joplin High School when Urban Metropolitan Development, a contractor from Atlanta, Ga., was in charge of demolition for the school.
He thinks he is doing the neighborhood a favor by filling the site.
“There’s no rhyme or reason why anybody wouldn’t want this filled up and have it safe. Why would people want to slow the process? I’ve never figured that out. My ultimate goal is to fill it up and make it a grass area, eventually maybe turn it back to the city.”
Neely declined to say how deep the shaft is, but Charles Nodler, archivist at Missouri Southern State University’s Spiva Library, where many mining maps are kept, said some maps show Bullfrog Mine goes to a depth of at least 179 feet in some areas.
Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex, said that Bullfrog Mine is cited in a 1909 report for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, Mining and Mine Inspection that indicates there was one opening with two shafts that are 175 feet deep and “concentrated on a mill of 200 tons daily capacity.” A 1950 Division of Mine Inspection report says it was operated by B.F. & H. Mining Co.
There is no indication when work there ceased.
Joplin city officials said last week that there is nothing in city ordinances that would prevent Neely from filling the old mine and that Neely’s operation is not a landfill because a landfill is defined as a site that takes trash and refuse, not clean fill.
“As a property owner, they have the right to fill in the hole with fill dirt or material and if they choose to receive payments for that, they have the right to do so,” said Eric Kellstadt, planning and community development specialist for the city of Joplin. “This is a temporary situation and at such time the hole is filled, activity would cease. They can’t use landfill or solid waste or refuse, and it does not require paved drives or fencing. The owner did install a faucet or pump to provide water to keep dust down. Maybe he should use it more frequently.”
And despite complaints neighbors have lodged with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, officials with the regulatory agency said that Neely is doing things by the book. They have not cited him for any violations.
Renee Bungart, director of communications at the DNR, said the agency considers the material being dumped in the mine as “clean fill,” which is exempt from permitting requirements. She also said that DNR representatives have gone to the site at least a dozen times since last July and found no violations. She said the DNR can issue a citation if there is dust leaving the property, but it has not witnessed that firsthand.
The DNR has no other pending projects in the Joplin area for filling mine shafts, she said.
None of this is sitting well with some of the neighbors.
“It’s really bad when you are working in the backyard or something and you thank God the wind is blowing in a different direction, even if it means your neighbors are catching it that day,” Gardner said.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, “clean fill” is uncontaminated soil, rock, sand, concrete, gravel, asphaltic concrete, cinder blocks, brick, minimal amounts of wood and metal, and inert solids as defined by state regulations.