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June 19, 2013

Terre Haute Coke & Carbon: Cleaning up a legacy

The Big Dig: Cleanup at former plant to start next week

TERRE HAUTE — When heavy equipment starts moving dirt next week at the former Terre Haute Coke and Carbon industrial site, city officials hope a new day will be dawning for a long-neglected part of town.

On Tuesday night, officials met with residents from the 13th and Hulman street neighborhood to talk about Terre Haute’s version of the Big Dig — a plan to remove thousands of truckloads of contaminated dirt from the property and to replace it with clean soil.

In all, 20 acres of the nearly 50-acre brownfield site will be remediated in this way. Work is expected to begin next week by the contractor, HIS Constructors, an Indianapolis-based company.

The goal is to turn the property, currently just a big open field, into a setting for future light-industrial investment opportunities, city officials have said.

At Tuesday night’s meeting in the Booker T. Washington Community Center, residents expressed concern about possible dust from the digging and hauling away of contaminated soil. Steven Stanford, a senior project manager for Weaver Boos Consultants, the Chicago-based firm overseeing the remediation project, said the removed soil will either be watered down or contain enough natural moisture that dust should not be a concern.

“If [dust] becomes a problem, there will be tarps” placed over the trucks hauling the soil, Stanford said.

Steps are also being taken to keep mud and dirt from falling off of truck tires onto South 13th Street, Stanford said. Course gravel will help remove mud and dirt from the tires and a street sweeper will also be available to HIS Constructors to keep city streets clean, he said.

“It’s very important to us that the stuff not be tracked around,” Stanford said.

A few residents didn’t seem satisfied with these answers and remained concerned after the 90-minute meeting.

Annetta Sweatt, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 35 years, said she was not reassured by the answers she heard.

“I’ve had lots of experience with coke dust in my house, in my yard,” Sweatt said after the meeting. She also said plastic barriers in place to keep mud from leaving the site are, she believes, inadequate to do the job.

Still, Sweatt applauded local officials for promising to have an “open door” to any concerns that she or others have during the cleanup.

“I feel good about there being an open door for everybody concerned,” Sweatt said. “I will be walking through that door often.”

Mayor Duke Bennett, who also attended the meeting, said anyone with concerns should dial 311 to reach City Hall, and action will be taken immediately. “We’ll have somebody there in no time,” Bennett said.

About 100 truckloads will leave the former industrial site each day, carrying contaminated soil to the Sycamore Ridge landfill in southern Vigo County near Blackhawk. The cleanup will last into November, city officials said, and several thousands of round trips by those trucks are expected.

The landfill is governed by strict environmental standards for proper disposal of contaminated earth, Stanford said.

The entire remediation effort is expected to cost about $5 million. The money is coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Indiana.

Weaver Boos will have an inspector on the job site at all times to ensure the cleanup is taking place correctly, Stanford said.

The former industrial site produced coke, a coal byproduct, for decades, beginning in 1916 and ending around 1988. It produced coal gas for lighting and other byproducts, such as ammonia, tar and benzene. The main contaminants in the soil include benzene, arsenic and lead. A large tar pit on the property will be capped and essentially turned into a large concrete slab covered with clean soil, Stanford said.

Groundwater below the site is also contaminated, Stanford noted. However, no contamination was found in groundwater around the site, he said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or


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