The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 16, 2014

Peoria Tribe-NEO wetlands nearing completion

MIAMI, Okla. — When Mark Grigsby looks out over a five-acre tract of land near Tar Creek in Miami, he sees a golden opportunity for education and environmental cleanup.

Grigsby, who is the science and math department chairman at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, has worked for the past three years with the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma to establish a wetlands on NEO’s campus as part of a passive water treatment system. This system will reintroduce native grasses and plants to establish a wetlands area that could help clean up the creek, long polluted with mine water, by absorbing the heavy metals in it.

“This started out as a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for the Peoria Tribe which required them to have an educational partner,” Grigsby said. “They picked us for the grant, and that let us develop this land as wetland.”

During a walk-through of the site, Grigsby explained how water would move from Tar Creek into the constructed wetlands.

“We can pump out water from the creek into a holding pond that will flow to retention ponds, where plants that we have introduced could take up the heavy metals that pollute the creek,” he said. “The water is then pumped back into the creek, where it will be tested for levels of heavy metals. Hopefully, it is safer than when it came in.”

According to a news release issued by the EPA in 2012, the Peoria Tribe was issued a grant for $118,000, which was earmarked for monitoring surface water quality on tribal lands. Grigsby estimated that $250,000 will be spent on this project, including additional grant money from the EPA. The project was started by the tribe in 2011, and included waivers from the Grand River Dam Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the work.

The pollution in Tar Creek comes from decades of lead and zinc mining in the area that resulted in the EPA stepping in to initiate its biggest Superfund cleanup site.

“When they stopped mining, and thus stopped pumping the shafts, the water just sat there and absorbed the heavy metals, and eventually that was the water that came out into Tar Creek,” Grigsby said. “By the 1970s, we knew we had a serious problem here.”

The EPA put the mining area, which included Picher, Cardin and Hockerville, on its National Priorities List in 1983. In 2008, the EPA put $60 million into relocating residents from these towns in the middle of what became known as the Tar Creek Superfund Site. Cleanup of chat — a gravel-like byproduct of lead and zinc mining — began soon after.

Despite the EPA’s efforts to plug deep-aquifer wells and to remove mine tailings from the surface of the land, Tar Creek is still polluted with heavy metals including zinc, lead and cadmium. Grigsby said a casual observer could tell the damage just by looking at the trees overlooking Tar Creek near the site.

“Iron tends to wash out upstream until it floods,” he said. “But when it does flood, the creek will turn orange with rust. It then sticks to the trees. That’s just one of the ways that this area has been impacted by the closed mines.”

Construction started on the wetlands in the spring of 2013 with the digging of four ponds, 18 to 24 inches deep, where native fish and plants will be introduced. The main holding pond, which takes up most of the area, has been cleared and equipped with the pumping system for the creek. Grigsby now is researching what plants to introduce into the area in the spring. After the plants are introduced, the wetlands site should be completed during this summer, he said.

“There is enough work that shows that plants can take up some amount of metals,” Grigsby said. “If we can show that the plants we introduce through this wetlands project help clean up the water, it will show the EPA that they have options, natural options, for cleanup assistance.”

Grigsby said that by 2015, plants such as cattails and bluestem grass will populate the wetlands like they once did around Miami.

“It won’t look like a lawn, but it will look like it should,” he said. “It will be a wetlands like it was before it was developed by the city. If the plants do absorb enough metals to help clean up the water, we will have to decide how to dispose of them afterward, but that’s a bridge we’d be happy to cross when it comes.”

In addition to the benefit to the local environment, Grigsby said, students attending NEO will use the site for educational purposes.

“We are a two-year school, not a research facility, but we will still be using this land for studies,” Grigsby said. “We have a great opportunity to take our basic biology students in the field right here on campus and give them a hands-on lesson in local nature.”

A gazebo will be constructed south of the holding ponds to be used as an outdoor classroom.

For Grigsby, the wetlands project represents a winning situation for NEO and the Peoria Tribe.

“They did the legwork in getting the grant prepared and approved,” he said. “The school, and the creek, will get the full benefit from their hard work.”

Documentary film

THE TAR CREEK SUPERFUND SITE was the subject of the 2009 documentary “Tar Creek,” which covered the long effort to clean up mining waste in the area, and the controversy surrounding the federal buyout of the residents of Picher, Cardin and Hockerville.

Text Only
Local News
  • Ruling modifies gas rates; MGE says bills to remain the about same

    An agreement to settle a Missouri Gas Energy rate change will modify the company’s various rates, but the net bill to consumers will remain largely the same, according to statements released Thursday by the gas company and the state’s utility regulatory agency.

    April 24, 2014

  • Railroad conducts training session; law enforcement officers work on crossing enforcement

    Joplin police and Missouri State Highway Patrol officers trained Thursday and will continue today on railroad crossing safety with Kansas City Southern Railway Co. The annual event, called “Officer on a Train,” puts law enforcement officers in the locomotive cab to give them a real-time view of how motorists and pedestrians approach train crossings through the city. The event began Thursday morning on tracks crossing Fourth Street near Murphy Boulevard.

    April 24, 2014

  • East Newton High student designated semifinalist in Presidential Scholars Program

    An East Newton High School student is among eight Missouri students who have been named semifinalists in the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program for their outstanding academic achievement. George Bennion, a senior from Stark City, said he was “super excited” when he was notified of his selection as a semifinalist.

    April 24, 2014

  • 042314 Rec funding Build a Lion_72.jpg Missouri Southern students to vote on new fee, going smoke-free

    Students at Missouri Southern State University will vote next week on whether they support creating a fee that would fund athletic and recreation projects. During the annual student senate-sponsored spring election, students also will be asked whether they support a completely tobacco-free campus.

    April 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • New Kansas gun law draws support, some reservations

    At John’s Sports Center in Pittsburg on Thursday, firearms manager Adam Gariglietti said he supported Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to sign a bill that will ensure it is legal across the state to openly carry firearms. But, he offered some words of caution. “It’s great that he signed the bill,” Gariglietti said. “But at the same time, common sense goes a long way.”

    April 24, 2014

  • Baxter Springs chili feed to raise money for family of girl facing surgery

    On a Sunday morning in February, 9-year-old Izzy Morris woke up her mother complaining of a headache. Teresa Morris gave her daughter medicine. But an hour later, the headache had worsened. “She was in a lot of pain and started screaming and yelling uncontrollably,” Morris said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Carthage budget committee hears proposal for water, sewer rate increases

    The proposed budget for the Carthage Water & Electric Plant, including increases in water and wastewater rates, dominated discussions Thursday night as the Carthage Budget Ways and Means Committee continued its review of proposed city budgets for the fiscal year starting July 1.

    April 24, 2014

  • Mike Pound 2010.jpg Mike Pound: Self-driving cars mean not having to teach teens to drive

    I may be wasting my time trying to teach my 16-year-old daughter, Emma, how to drive.
    According to The Washington Post, self-driving cars are on the way. What used to be a dream of bored engineers has now become something that certain car companies are taking seriously.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • World Tai Chi Day to be celebrated on Saturday

    At least two communities in the area will be celebrating World Tai Chi Day Saturday with outdoor events at area parks.

    April 24, 2014

  • Groundbreaking set for MSSU residence hall complex

    A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, April 28, for the new residence hall complex at Missouri Southern State University.

    April 24, 2014

Must Read


What’s your favorite tree?

A. Maple
B. Oak
C. Dogwood
D. Redbud
     View Results
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter