Proposed quarry operation continues

rpulley@lsjournal.comSeptember 4, 2013 

Lee’s Summit is asking for a report from engineers to confirm the safety of roads near a proposed quarrying operation at Pryor Road and Interstate 470.

City Manager Steve Arbo, in response to questions from The Journal, said recently that testimony raised during public hearings on quarrying at the site is prompting the city to seek more information.

An area under Quarry Park Road in previous years had collapsed and the road closed, subsequently a plan to use the area for a park was abandoned, with the property returned to the mining company, according to a 2003 report from URS, an engineering company.

Arbo said Terracon, a firm the city has a contract with for geo-technical consulting, is preparing the scope of a future study to inspect the mine in relation to the roads and possibly some boring.

Arbo said the third-party review of the area is a precaution.

“Based on the knowledge we have today,” Arbo said. “We think the public road system and structures are not at risk...if we thought it was dangerous, we wouldn’t allow roads to be there today.”

The safety issue was prominent during hearings for a special-use permit to allow businessman Flip Short to reclaim undermined land on the north side of I-470, west of Pryor Road.

The City Council has approved the permit, but the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has said it wants more information.

Arbo said the city’s special-use permit depended on a finding that the land wasn’t suitable for development, but didn’t address the current safety of the mine.

Short wants to blast rock to drop the roof of an unstable, underground mine and then crush and sell the rock. Once the level is down to a solid layer of rock, he plans to redevelop the highly-visible intersection.

The 2003 study indicates the land along the interstate is too unstable to support structures, but didn’t include inspections of the mine under adjacent lands. The study said conditions probably are the same.

A concrete company and an asphalt company have large operations north of Quarry Road so it carries heavy truck traffic.

School buses go up and down Quarry Park Road to reach Clifford Road, which once was a private driveway.

Five nearby landowners contend the city’s granting a special-use permit for land reclamation puts their safety at risk because it could increase likelihood of collapse. Or from an accidental explosion. They said they think the City Council brushed aside those questions because it is hoping for new revenue from Short’s plan.

The real situation is uncertain. The 2003 study called for more study and borings before development.

Experts testifying for Short, on one hand, said the mine already is collapsing, but also said blasting can be controlled and safe so other property owners aren’t affected.

“If that mine is so dangerous, how can you take only half of it out?” said Rod Gravitt, one of the property owners.

The opponents also challenge the city’s past oversight of the mine and said if they are damaged the city might be liable.

An ordinance dating to 1965 spelled out conditions for the Union Quarries Inc. operation including:

• the city would hire a qualified engineer to make unannounced inspections and reports

• monthly seismograph readings

• the mine and mined-out areas shall be maintained by the user to keep it useable for the owner or for civil defense

•  setting limits on how thin rock and dirt can be above the mine

The original ordinance calls for a minimum of 64 feet of total “overburden” (rock and dirt) but the thicknesses observed in the 2003 report said it varies from 10 to 70 feet.

Essentially the mine was abandoned after the city denied Union Quarry extensions of its permits in 1981, when it wanted to push mining farther on the south side of I-470.

Testimony in those hearings already mentioned cave-ins that had happened as a concern.

“Obviously, this stuff was not followed,” said landowner Melody Gillette in an interview. “No one has ever maintained this mine.”

Arbo said the city doesn’t have any way to go back to Union Quarries Inc. to correct any problems with the mine.

The city doesn’t now know how closely the ordinance was followed, he said.

If engineering reports were made, he said, the city doesn’t know where to find them and they may have been destroyed, as a routine part of legally purging records.

“None of us today can say with any certainty if those reports were provided,” Arbo said. “The company may have been in full compliance...”

The city has some limited control, under state law, aside from the special-use permit. It can set blasting hours (between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and the city Fire Marshal can inspect explosives storage.

Short has agreed to put seismographs on the site and south of I-470 and share the results on a website, so residents can see the effects of blast themselves. (A stipulation made on his city permit.)

Chuck Owsley, director of public works, said the city occasionally does get a complaint about blasting for local construction projects.

He noted that even heavy truck traffic will register on a seismograph.

“You can feel stuff long before it causes damage,” Owsley said.

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