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Science and the Environment

Contaminated Downtown Property to be Cleaned Up

A major cleanup is underway on a contaminated site in downtown Springfield that served as the source of the city's fuel long ago.  KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more.

The former home of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, at Water and Main in Springfield has come down.  Large equipment was on site this week to pull the beige brick building, which also used to house a meter center, apart. Soon, a massive tent will be placed over the entire lot so the land can be cleaned up.  The property is owned by City Utilities of Springfield.

"This particular site that we're going to be remediating or cleaning up...is where there were two gas holders--tanks, if you will--similar to what water tanks look like now, the lower structured ones, that would raise and lower themselves based upon the amount of content that was in there," said CU spokesman Joel Alexander.

According to Alexander, in the 1800's, the area was the industrial and cultural epicenter of Springfield.

He said in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coal was turned into gas, which was used by privately-owned Springfield Gas and Electric and its predecessors for heating and other uses in homes and businesses.  The tanks on the lot were filled with that gas product, and the soil around them became contaminated.  Years later, it’s going to be cleaned up.

"What we're going to come in here and do over the next several months is remediate this property, take out where those two tank holder sites were, clean out whatever was in those when they were removed from use and also anything that may have been around those two sites," he said.

The land has been CU property since the company was formed by a vote of Springfield City Council in 1945 and Springfield Gas & Electric’s assets were purchased. Alexander says the site hasn’t been used by a utility company since the 1930s.

He said, in recent years, some tests were done, and CU was told that if they had the opportunity to remediate the site, it would be a good idea.  So, the company is voluntarily cleaning it up.

"We have the opportunity to do it at the same time we're doing another pretty major scale project almost right across the street here with the bus transfer station," he said.

According to Alexander, there are similar sites all over the state and across the U.S.

It won’t be an easy project, he said, with expected ten-hour work days for several months.  Air monitoring equipment will be used, and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency will be involved. 

Alexander said they’ll dig down 20 feet in some places to be sure they get all the contaminated soil out.

"We'll take that soil out.  There is a specific area at the landfill north of town, Springfield's landfill, that is authorized to take materials such as this," he said.

New fill dirt will be brought in.  One of the tanks, he said, went only five to six feet below the surface. The other went down to bedrock. 

When the project is done, the lot will be seeded over and can be used as green space by the public until long-term plans are decided.

The $7 million needed for the project will come out of CU’s Environmental Reserves Fund.

Meanwhile, the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks is settling into its new home at the Watershed Center at Valley Water Mill.