By Ryan Richardson
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
Crews could begin next week hauling acres of mining waste to Sucker Flats, an open pit mine in King Jack Park. It is part of the ongoing federal cleanup of the Tri-State Mining District.
The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, is evaluating another site west of Joplin as an additional dump site.
Mark Doolan, manager of the Jasper County Superfund Site for the EPA, said workers are building a haul road to the 100-foot-deep pit at King Jack Park. Although it is filled with 60 feet of water, Doolan said it has the capacity to store nearly 1 million cubic yards’ worth of mining waste and chat.
Currently, free-standing hazardous mining waste within a three-mile radius of the pit will be hauled there in tarp-covered trucks, he said.
“We’ve fenced enclosed roads and closed two entrances near the east side in preparation to start filling,” Doolan said. “The actual dumping should begin within a week or two and go on over the next year.”
It is the latest phase of a $19 million EPA cleanup in Jasper County and follows efforts to use the Oronogo Circle, another open pit mine near Oronogo that crews began filling this fall. Doolan said Monday that between 600,000 and 700,000 cubic yards of mining waste has already been dumped into the Oronogo pit, which has a capacity for 4 million cubic yards.
Moving mining waste to centrally contained sites, such as the Sucker Flats and the Oronogo Circle pits, allows the EPA to improve safety and health for residents, and also to reclaim the land that was previously unusable, Doolan said. Despite the fact that both pits contain water, Doolan said this method of storage is the safest option for the county, and tests at earlier containment sites near Waco indicated there is no long-term water contamination threat.
“We’ve done several studies showing that less of these metals leach back into surrounding water when they are placed under water in these pits and then capped,” Doolan said. “The metals basically will become inert over time.”
Reclaiming land near the park is an opportunity for Webb City, according to Parks and Recreation Director Tom Reeder.
“The concern from the city has always been the safety issue with the open pit and what we can do with it,” Reeder said. “We asked ourselves the question when dealing with anything park-related: ‘What can we do for the best use for the most amount of people?’ The answer is to fill that pit up, cap it and get it back to use for the community.”
Reeder said the mining cleanup will reclaim 16 acres of currently unusable land in the park that is covered with waste, and an additional seven acres from the pit itself, for a total of 23 acres.
He said that his office has handled inquiries about the project from residents, and while the initial impression has been mixed, most people understand that the project will benefit the city long term.
“After explaining the positives of this project, people seem to come out of with an understanding,” Reeder said. “We are basically filling up a mine hole, and that’s what we should remember. It will be community-use land once the project is completed. We haven’t discussed specifics, but it will be available for use by the general public.”
Doolan said the EPA will continue to evaluate another possible containment site west of Joplin near Malang Road that is on land formerly owned by Farmers Chemical, a subsidiary of Farmland Industries Inc.
“The area near Malang by the state line is the only other site that we are looking at currently,” Doolan said. “We have evaluated that location as our next possible site, but we do not have an estimate on how much the site could hold at the time.”
Doolan said the latest estimate by the EPA put the volume of mining waste in Jasper County at 14 million cubic yards, with 5 million cubic yards already put into mining waste sites across the county.
Doolan estimates that the Oronogo Circle pit could hold up to an additional 3.4 million cubic yards, while Sucker Flats could hold 1 million cubic yards, leaving 4.6 million cubic yards of mining waste that still need to be contained.
“Right now we are only considering the one site (Farmers Chemical), and we will evaluate other sites in the future as needed.” Doolan said. “This project could take 10 years to completion to get this done right.”
Mining waste that will be hauled to the Sucker Flats and Oronogo Circle mining pits contains heavy metals — lead, zinc and cadmium — that can be hazardous to human health and the environment. The waste is a result of mining and lead smelting practices stretching back to the 1850s that left 7,000 acres in Jasper County contaminated with free-standing chat piles, according to the EPA.