CARTERVILLE — Only 75 acres of former mining land have been cleaned up, but it's a start that Carterville Mayor Dale Davenport hopes will continue until the project is finished.
"So far, it's looking pretty good," he said. "They're seeding it now, and that has set it off. What I have seen there will help the looks of both Carterville and Webb City. It was something that needed to be taken care of a long time ago."
The cleanup of the mined land along old Route 66 between Carterville and Webb City is nearing completion, according to the contractor, Snyder Construction Co. of Joplin.
The one-year project, which was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through its Superfund program, originally was to have cost about $1.9 million. But the volume of lead-and zinc-mining wastes that required removal was double what was estimated, and the cost of fuel skyrocketed. The cost of the project ballooned to $3.8 million.
With this cleanup experience under its belt, Snyder Construction has been chosen by the EPA to receive a second contract to continue the cleanup of mine wastes in portions of Carterville and Webb City.
The next phase will tackle 400 acres on the north, west and south sides of the 75-acre tract that has been completed, said Jim Zerkel, spokesman for Snyder.
The EPA selected Snyder Construction to fulfill what could be a $50 million contract over five years. The EPA reviewed nine bids.
The fixed-unit-price contract has a one-year base period with four option years. Mark Doolan, project manager for the EPA, said the federal agency has approved a budget that provides $5 million a year to the project. He said the five-year timetable will more than likely be extended.
"I think they are going to be here for a while," Davenport said. "But we're just excited to see that it is being cleaned up. This is a great opportunity for our town."
The EPA received a $33 million settlement from Asarco Corp. in connection with its mining activity in Jasper and Newton counties. Jasper County will receive $22 million and Newton County will receive $11 million for cleanup projects.
The new contract includes phases two through six of the cleanup. It addresses 6 million cubic yards of surface mine waste covering 2,000 acres, or about 50 percent of the acreage that was affected by lead and zinc mining in Jasper County.
The 75 acres that have been reclaimed have 15 property owners. Some building restrictions will be placed on the land. Developers will not be allowed to disturb areas where caps have been constructed over subsidence pits.
What crews with Snyder Construction discovered after the cleanup work began is that the site contained many shafts that were not evident on mining maps.
"That didn't surprise me any. There are a lot of shafts all over this place. They found a lot of things out there they did not anticipate," Davenport said.
The cleanup includes disposal of mine waste in mine subsidence pits, covering the filled pits with an 18-inch soil cap, and planting native warm-season grasses.
The mining sites are being cleaned up because elevated levels of lead in the environment, particularly in soil, can pose a threat to public health, especially to children 6 and younger, pregnant women, and the elderly.
The EPA has been doing cleanup work in Jasper County since 1994. The Jasper County Superfund Site represents the Missouri portion of the historic Tri-State Mining District, encompassing 2,500 square miles in southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma and southwest Missouri.