After a brief delay, a $35 million cleanup job to remove hazardous coal ash from a downtown Belleville site will soon begin.
The site, located south of Main Street, west of Sixth Street and east of Richland Creek, was the former Belleville Gas Light & Coke Co. plant that produced the gas that fueled the city’s gas lamps before electric lights became prevalent.
Ameren Illinois, which is responsible for cleaning the site, had previously said it hoped a large tent would be constructed over the property by the end of May to contain the hazardous materials while they’re being removed from the ground. According to spokesman Brian Bretsch, once the tent is constructed but before excavation begins, Ameren will host an open house at the site. A date for that open house hasn’t been set.
Bretsch said the delay at the Belleville site was due to Ameren dealing with other, similar cleanup operations around the state. He also said a storm sewer line that ran through the property had to be capped and rerouted before prep work could continue.
Residents already have been affected by the work at the site. Drivers headed east on Main can no longer take the curve to the south to Sixth Street and Centreville Avenue. According to City Engineer Tim Gregowicz, traffic won’t return to normal in the area until the project’s estimated 2018 completion.
Belleville owns the ground, so once the cleanup concludes, the city will decide how to develop the land.
City officials have not yet determined what the site will be used for once cleanup is complete.
“It could be a couple years” before definite development plans are in place, Mayor Mark Eckert said. “We’ve not really currently had any real brainstorming sessions on that property.”
There are a couple of reasons why. First, the Belleville Police Department is set to move into the Bank of Belleville building that neighbors the site. Eckert said the city did not want to disrupt that transition. He also said development plans could be affected by the fate of one of the site’s other neighbors.
“Since we know that St. Elizabeth’s Hospital will be making some definite changes, we’re not sure what’s going to be left (at the former hospital site) in the future,” he said.
Possible work at the site could include a realignment of the nearby streets, Eckert said. That realignment could include a roundabout, but no formal discussions have occurred and no plans are in place.
“There certainly are some possibilities of some development opportunities,” Eckert said. “Once we see that we’re making progress (with the cleanup), we’ll be in a good position then to talk about future development on that site.”
He said any project the city undertakes there will use some federal Department of Transportation money that will become available to the city in 2017.