Excavation of soil contaminated with coal tar in downtown Belleville could begin by the end of the week, Ameren Illinois officials said during an open house at the cleanup site Tuesday.
Workers began earlier this year preparing the former site of the Belleville Gas Light & Coke Co. at West Main and Sixth Streets for the cleanup, erecting a temporary enclosure at the site and closing the street out front. Soil testing at the site had been ongoing for several years.
The business, founded in 1856, supplied gas made from coal to light downtown street lights, was folded into several companies over the years, eventually becoming part of Illinois Power in 1922. Although Illinois Power sold the site to the city of Belleville in the 1960s, Ameren assumed responsibility for the site after acquiring Illinois Power in 2004.
Ameren Consulting Environmental Scientist Brian Martin said the first phase of the project, which could start as soon as the end of the week, will include removing contaminated soil on the site that borders Main Street, Washington Street, Sixth Street and Richland Creek. During that phase, workers will move the temporary building six to eight times, ensuring the contaminated soil is removed in an enclosed environment. Workers will replace the removed soil with clean fill.
In the second phase, workers will temporarily reroute Richland Creek in order to remove contaminated soil from the creek bed and east bank of the creek. When that’s done, they’ll send the creek back down its original path.
“We’ll start digging this week,” Martin said. He said each phase of the cleanup is expected to take 18 months to complete. Overall, Martin said the cleanup cost is projected to reach $30 million.
Jennifer Seul, an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency project manager assigned to the Belleville cleanup operation, said the agency will provide assistance and oversight to Ameren throughout the project.
“The nice thing about this is they know what they’re doing. (Ameren) is very experienced in this kind of remediation,” Seul said. “Once they get started, it’s just if anybody has questions, we answer their questions and we let them do what they know best.”
It was an IEPA examination of the site that prompted the cleanup in the first place. And once Ameren completes its cleanup, the IEPA will determine what can—and cannot—be done with the land.
Suel said Ameren can either clean the site to commercial and industrial standards or to residential standards. If the site is cleaned to residential standards, which is the more strict of the two standards, there would be nothing the city couldn’t use the ground for when the project is complete.
“We want to get it as clean as is feasible,” Martin said. “We’ll shoot for residential standards.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the site will be home to Belleville’s newest crop of houses or apartments. Since the land is city-owned, city leaders will decide what to do with it. City Hall is still mulling over its options and currently has no definite plans for the site other than to use federal grant money in its development Mayor Mark Eckert in July said would become available to the city in 2017.