By Andy Ostmeyer
WEBB CITY, Mo. — One of Southwest Missouri’s mine-scarred moonscapes is slowly but surely beginning to look more like it belongs back on Earth.
On Tuesday, as the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a plan to clean up sites in Newton County, work was continuing on the hundreds of acres of tailing piles and mine pits left in Carterville and Webb City.
“Most of the work on the Carterville side is already done,” said Mark Doolan, project manager for the EPA. “We are plugging along and making good progress. We are really pleased with the way things are going.”
An initial 75-acre project was completed last year, and this spring an additional 900 acres should be cleaned up to federal standards.
“Probably in the next three or four months,” Doolan said.
The goal, he said, is to clean up part of the site to industrial standards because Webb City officials want to put an industrial park there. The EPA also plans to clean up as much as 800 of those acres to residential standards, which means homes could be built there.
When the Webb City-Carterville cleanup is finished, EPA officials plan to continue working their way south toward Duenweg.
Contractors — in this case Snyder Construction Co. — strip the contaminated soil down to the clay and use the collected material to fill pits, which then are capped with clean clay and a layer of topsoil.
Within those acres are miles of water, sewer, natural gas and telephone lines that must be reinstalled.
Doolan said that as part of the cleanup in Jasper County, the EPA will lay new sewer line from Carterville to the Webb City lift station, and will put in 1.5 miles of new waterline.
“The biggest problem we’re having is stormwater runoff,” Doolan said. Much of the runoff in the past made its way into the mines, but as those are plugged, the contractors have to create retention ponds and basins to store the water to control flooding.
The sites are being cleaned up because of elevated levels of heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, that pose a risk to human health, and also because of groundwater and surface water contamination from the mine wastes.
Doolan said there are nearly 7,000 acres — more than 10 square miles — that ultimately need to be cleaned up in Jasper County. He said the total cleanup cost for the county is about $100 million, with 10 to 15 years of work ahead.
An EPA cleanup also is going on in Cherokee County, Kan. Contaminated soil on 380 acres in Baxter Springs and Treece, and 60 acres in Badger and Lawton is being removed.
The work in Baxter Springs and Treece began about a year ago, and is expected to take three or four years to complete. The EPA allocated $20.5 million for the work in Baxter Springs and Treece. Efforts for an EPA buyout of Treece residents also have begun.
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe.
Cleanup of mining land in Jasper County is being helped along by a settlement announced last year with American Smelting and Refining Co. Asarco paid nearly $2 billion as part of a bankruptcy reorganization to clean up 80 sites in 19 states. Included in that was nearly $91 million to clean up sites left from the mining boom in the Tri-State Mining District. Some of the earliest mining began in the area before the Civil War. The last of the mines in the region shut down in the 1970s.
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