Park Hills and other communities in the area have been the site of residential lead remediation at the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by use of contracted excavation, landscaping and lawn care crews at the expense of the Doe Run Company.
The remediation efforts seek to identify residential properties that exhibit high levels of lead in the soil when tested. After being identified and receiving permission from the property owner, crews remove lead-laden dirt from the property and replace it with new dirt, followed by seeding the yard to return it to its previous appearance.
While the intentions of such cleanups are well and good, Park Hills City Administrator Mark McFarland said the city has received a steady stream of complaints from citizens who are in the process of having their properties remediated, sometimes even becoming large enough of a problem that it requires city cleanup.
“We’ve got all kinds of people upset,” McFarland said. “I’ve talked to several EPA people. All of them want to shove the blame onto somebody else. They want to say it’s not them, it’s the people that Doe Run gets. I don’t care whose fault it is, but there’s a mess. When you’ve got mud running down city sidewalks and all that kind of stuff, it’s just a mess.”
McFarland said one of his first experiences with the problematic nature of the remediation process came when he was coaching at Central Middle School. A large piece of the school district’s property was identified for remediation approximately eight years ago, including the area where McFarland held football practice. He said after the remediation was done, there were huge ruts left in the ground that made it impossible to practice on without risking serious injury … and no help could be gotten from those responsible.
Similar troubles have been reported to city hall in recent years, with residents citing damage to their properties, changes in water flow and retention, a lack of grass growth and difficulty in getting a response from anyone who can do anything about the situation.
McFarland said the problem is compounded when the contracted crews begin the remediation late in the year when grass doesn’t have a chance to grow, leaving bare dirt yards over the winter season with the potential for them turning into muddy messes during those months.
“I’ve tried to get them to stop all remediation by the end of September so we don’t have this bare dirt all winter long, washing all over the place,” he said. “They haven’t agreed to that yet, but we have a meeting coming up in the middle of the month so hopefully we can get that done at least.”
With so many areas of Park Hills on sloped terrain, McFarland said the city is more apt to have problems when it comes to weather interacting with the remediation process, but other cities have apparently had the same problems reported.
Desloge City Administrator Dan Bryan said some of the same problems that are being seen in Park Hills have also been reported in Desloge.
“We’ve seen similar things,” Bryan said. “Crews have broken sidewalks and had to come back and repair them as well. With the heavy rains, we’ve seen the issue with mud washing out into the streets. We’ve had to have our public works supervisor address those situations.”
Unsure of exactly how many properties in Desloge are currently undergoing remediation, Bryan said they are not difficult to spot as one goes through town.
“You can drive around town and see yards that are just dirt, or only growing weeds,” he said. “They haven’t replanted grass or really followed through with the project. They might have brought dirt back in, but it seems like they’re leaving some of the (projects) incomplete.”
One Park Hills resident who has experienced frustration during the process of remediation of his property is Clyde Thomas, who lives on Lewis Street.
“They came into my yard in August of last year to start digging it out,” Thomas said. “They told me it would take them no less than two weeks to thirty days. As of right now, my yard still has not been completed to what they told me before.
“We spent all last winter with gullies on the left side of my yard. There were gullies two feet wide and three feet deep from the water rushing through. When they came in, they said I would no longer have that problem. They redid my front yard for the second time and it instantly washed out within three days. They came back and did it the third time and they said if it washes out again, it’s a city problem. So they were trying to blame it off onto the city for the water running through my yard.”
Thomas said he has been living at his current address for 22 years and has never had the problem with water flow and draining that he has now. After the yard work had been washed out once, Thomas said the crew had returned and laid down sod and said that it should guarantee that it would not wash away again.
“Within six days of the sod being put down, the water washed it out and washed all the sod into the street,” he said. “When I questioned them on that, I asked them if they would do all the yard work again when they came back to fix it and lay down new sod. They said ‘yes,’ but then they put all the old sod that had washed away and was all wadded up back down.”
Because new sod had not been installed, Thomas said, the sod has all died and his yard is now growing only weeds. To compound the issue, when it rains, Thomas says, he will now have up to 10 inches of water in his back yard. Because of the position of his home, there is naturally a lot of water that moves through the area during rain, but he says the water had never been so destructive and saturating on his property until the yard work had been done for the remediation.
“We have a lot of water that rushes down here,” he said. “But the way it flowed through before, it never washed my front yard out. I can’t even mow my front yard now. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
In the beginning, Thomas said, he received a letter that informed him that he would be unable to sell his home in the future until the property was remediated. He said if he knew what he knows now, he would never allow the process to begin on his property. To make matters worse, Thomas’ business is located on the same property and was shut down for nearly four weeks because of the dirt work.
“They had my business shut down for almost four weeks while they had my driveway tore up,” he said. “I begged them not to do that. I said, ‘If you dig it up, get the rock put back in as soon as you can so I can move forward.’
“They dug it out and I had two cars that had to be towed out of here because they were too close to the edge and the rock fell down. I had to have two customers towed out of here. It cost me probably $8,000 in profit last year in the time they were here working.”
After now being told that the contractors will not be returning to Thomas’ house because too much money has been spent on it already, he estimates that the cost of repairing his yard to its former state will cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“By the time I get my yard fixed now that they’re gone, I’m probably going to spend another $30,000 to get my yard back to the way it was before they touched it,” he said. “And that’s coming out of my own pocket. I’ve had landscaping companies come in and test the soil— the soil has no nutrients in it at all. It’s dead dirt. So nothing is going to grow until I get somebody in here to fertilize it.”
While Thomas’ experience is the extreme end of the spectrum, he said he has spoken with other homeowners who have expressed their own frustration with the work being done on their property. McFarland mentioned one homeowner who lived downhill from a property that was being remediated and has had to seal off her back door to stop muddy water from rushing inside when it rains.
McFarland and Bryan both expressed hope that some of the community’s concerns would be addressed at an upcoming meeting regarding the Big River Mine Tailings Site and subsequent community tours with representatives from the EPA scheduled for Aug. 15-16.
After a 2 p.m. workshop to be held at Mineral Area College on Aug. 15, EPA representatives and city officials will be taking tours of Leadwood, Desloge, Bonne Terre and Park Hills on Aug. 16.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at email@example.com.