By Wally Kennedy
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
It’s a tale of two pits.
The mining pit in Webb City’s King Jack Park is filling quickly; the Oronogo Circle Mine is not.
“We’ve been going nonstop since January on the pit in King Jack Park. It’s about one-third full,’’ Mark Doolan, project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said this week while visiting the site.
“That’s about 60 truckloads a day with each truck carrying about 14 cubic yards (of mining waste),’’ he said.
The EPA estimates the capacity of the Sucker Flats pit at 1 million cubic yards.
At the current rate, Doolan said his agency estimates the pit will be filled within six to eight months.
The mining waste that is being hauled to the pits is the result of decades of lead and zinc mining and smelting in the region. The mining left 7,000 acres in Jasper County scarred by chat piles and contaminated metals that drain into streams, rivers and lakes in the region, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Sucker Flats pit in King Jack Park covers seven acres and is about 100 feet deep; the Oronogo Circle is a 12-acre pit that is up to 300 feet deep in some places.
The EPA began efforts to fill the pit at Oronogo in September of last year.
“We’ve put 1.3 million cubic yards of mining waste in the Oronogo Circle. You can’t even tell it,’’ Doolan added. “There’s no evidence that it is filling up.’’
The EPA estimates the Oronogo mine will hold approximately 4 million cubic yards of mining waste. When that project was launched, the EPA said the pit might not be big enough to hold all of the mining waste that would be placed there from sites around Oronogo. Doolan said they are not so sure about that now.
“We think it will hold 4 million cubic yards. The property owner thinks it will hold 10 to 15 million cubic yards,’’ said Doolan. “There is a possibility that the pit in Oronogo might not be completely filled with mining waste by the time we are done.’’
Doolan, manager of the Jasper County Superfund Site, said the water-filled Oronogo pit has drifts that could permit the fill material to spread out. Drifts are horizontal shafts dug into the side of the open pit mine.
The EPA estimates there are 7 million cubic yards of waste across Jasper County that need to be hauled to the dump sites. So far, the agency has completed the cleanup of 1,800 acres in the Webb City-Carterville area. The EPA is using mine openings as repositories for the waste rock. The waste is contaminated with heavy metals — lead, zinc and cadmium — that can be hazardous to human health and the environment.
If the pits were not used to dispose of the waste, EPA officials have said they would have to build multiple landfills across the county and maintain them indefinitely.
Once cleared, the reclaimed mining land can be used for commercial and agricultural purposes, and in some cases for residential development.