An environmental clean-up project along the Big Blue River in Beatrice is almost finished. The site of a coal gas plant in the early 1900s has been leveled but Beatrice city administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer says there’s still one big job remaining.
“Throughout the excavation, they found a group of cylinders that contain some type of chemical that are encased in concrete,” Tempelmeyer says. “We’re trying to discover what those cylinders contain, how do you dispose of them, how do you transport them, and it’s becoming quite an endeavor.”
One cylinder apparently contained the chemical that gives the odor to natural gas, but officials are uncertain what the others hold.
The city is responsible for 25% of the cleanup cost, with Centel Corporation paying the remaining 75%, based on past ownership of the property. Beatrice has spent about $1-million on the cleanup so far, with another $200,000 to be paid on the contract. The cost to remove the buried cylinders is expected to be around $250,000, of which the city will pay 25%.
The city has been dealing with the site since its discovery in 2004 and Tempelmeyer says officials ponder what projects might have been completed, had the cleanup not been required.
“As we’ve talked to our congressman and senators and local officials, trying to find ways to help relieve the financial burden on the city, we’ve made those arguments and every time we hear, ‘You’re the owner of it. You’re responsible for it’.” Tempelmeyer says. “It doesn’t matter that it happened 100 years ago, you’ve just got to get it cleaned up.”
When the project started, you could see the location on Google Maps satellite image, marked as a big circle near the river, where nothing would grow.
“That’s where the gas holder was at,” he says. “Basically, they dug a hole, threw all of the extra byproduct into that hole and everything else once they tore down the building. We found bricks and whatnot in there. They covered it up and that spot just didn’t have anything that grew.”
The contaminated soil will not be used as cover material. It is being disposed of at a waste site.
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA previously said the site’s soil and groundwater was contaminated by cyanide, metals, petroleum hydrocarbons and gasoline additives, among other things.
Once the cleanup is finished, Tempelmeyer says the area will become a park or green space, providing an area where the public can access the river.
CORRECTON: An earlier version of this story contained the sentence, “Coincidentally, contaminated soil removed during the clean-up is not required to be taken to a hazardous waste site, but is allowed to be used as cover material at the Beatrice solid waste landfill,” which is incorrect and has been corrected.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice