Historically, mining has been significant to the economy of this region, and it could be again.
St. Louis businessman Stacy W. Hastie, CEO of Environmental Operations and J. Randall Waterfield, CEO of Waterfield Holdings, announced Wednesday that Missouri Cobalt, LLC, has acquired land and operational control of 1,800 acres of a former mine operation in Madison County, from Anschutz Mining Corporation of Denver.
"The Missouri Cobalt announcement is great news for families and businesses in the Madison County area,” U.S Senator Roy Blunt said. "This project will create hundreds of new jobs, allow us to access and use our mineral resources, expedite reclamation efforts, and strengthen the local economy. It's a big win all around, and I look forward to seeing it move ahead."
Fredericktown officials are also hopeful.
“Here we are celebrating the Bicentennial of Fredericktown and Madison County, land that was built on mining so it’s very fitting to celebrate with the talks of opening up the mines once again,” Fredericktown Mayor Kelly Korokis said. “The purchase and reports of future plans are exciting and welcoming news for our community but I will be honest and say for now I am remaining cautiously optimistic until the doors open.”
Missouri Cobalt said environmental remediation of the site will employ up to 50 people. The new mining operation will create more than 250 permanent local jobs, plus construction jobs. In total, the project will produce some 600 to 700 temporary and permanent jobs.
“This is exciting news,” Madison County Presiding Commissioner Bob Mooney said. “I remember when I was a kid, the mines were in operation, and it really hurt the area when they closed. Hopefully this will be a springboard to bring better times to Madison County.”
“It sounds like great news,” State Rep. Rick Francis said. “I’m certainly hopeful. Wouldn’t 600 to 700 jobs be nice, and I think they were talking about 250 of them may be at least permanent for 12-15 years. It’s kind of exciting to have the potential.”
“We are excited also,” said Missouri Cobalt’s Vice President/General Counsel John J Diehl, Jr. “We think it’s going to be very good for the county and southeast Missouri in general.”
According to Diehl, the company is already working at the site.
“We’ve done a lot of due diligence, a lot of studies on this site so you’re going to see people coming in and out of there and things starting to move around and change there because we have started remediation activities,” Diehl said.
“What we’re going to be working on the next couple of months is pulling together on our long-term remediation plan to get closure on site from EPA and the DNR and then also working on our long-term operational plan for opening the mine site,” he said.
He said the full mining operation should begin in spring of 2020.
“That’s our goal,” Diehl said. “If not sooner.”
With the activity at the mine site, Missouri Cobalt expects employment opportunities for local individuals.
“We think there’s probably a skilled workforce in this type of industry and a skill set that’s in this region of the state and were going to look to take advantage of that and use local people whenever we’re able to do so,” Diehl said.
Diehl said Missouri Cobalt has kept Region 7 of the EPA and the Missouri DNR abreast of its activities and potential plans.
“Quite frankly it’s part of a lot of buy-in from the local government, state government, and the federal government to find a long-term solution to the environmental challenges on the site and being willing to work with us to do what needs to be done in order to open this back up,” Diel said.
Francis said he will be meeting with Diehl next week to discuss the project.
“I’ve also got some questions that I think some of my constituents over there might be asking, so I’m trying to get some answers ahead of time,” Francis said. “I know there’s going to be water that is going to have to be pumped out. Where is that going? We certainly don’t want to hurt any residents in that area. Just questions like that.”
John Bennett is member of the local historic society who has devoted most of his efforts to collecting, preserving, and sharing Madison County’s mining history.
According to Bennett, the history of mining in this area dates back to 1715 in Mine La Motte.
Mining at the local site Missouri Cobalt LLC currently controls began in 1844 when two Ohio natives dug the first shaft. Cobalt mining and refining didn’t begin until 1902 with North American Lead Company. Then after experiencing difficulty in separating the metals from the complex ores, North American Lead filed bankruptcy in 1910. Missouri Cobalt Company acquired the property out of receivership in 1916 and, after several modifications to the refining process, reopened the mine in 1918. It closed in 1920.
The property was idle until 1926 when St. Louis Smelting and Refining Company obtained options to land adjoining Missouri Cobalt’s property. St. Louis Smelting and Refining, a division of National Lead, opened the first shaft shortly after the start of World War II. Mine development and reconstruction of the mill facility was financed by the federal government, but actual mining and refining did not start until 1944.
National Lead lost its government contract at the end of World War II, but continued to stockpile nickel and cobalt concentrates on the property, selling its lead and copper concentrates. In 1951, the federal government agreed to build a new refinery which was completed in 1954 and operated until 1961. When National Lead closed the operation in 1961 the federal government also auctioned off the refinery complex and the property sat idle until 1979 when Anschutz Mining Corporation of Denver purchased the almost 1,500 acres. Anschutz did some testing but never reconstructed the facilities or re-opened the mine. Anschutz sold the property in March 2018, leading to Wednesday’s announcement.
“And I think what’s a great story is cobalt is a pretty critical vital natural resource,” Diehl said. “There is just really not a whole lot of domestically supplied cobalt from the United States or North America for that matter. And, it turns out that down in this area there is a great supply and great availability of that resource and we’re going to be able produce a critical natural resource right here in Missouri that’s going to support renewable energy, our goals in terms of vehicle emissions and electric cars batteries, basically everything, the smart phone you have, laptop, electric vehicles all use cobalt.
"And, about 70 percent of world’s cobalt supply right now comes from the Congo and the rest is tied up by China for the most part. So to have a supply here that’s going to be stable and somewhat readily available over the near term is going to be good.”