LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Starting Wednesday, a company will start using explosives to bust up a long-dormant rock quarry in Lee’s Summit, eventually clearing the land for future development.
But the sudden change to include blasting isn't sitting well with hundreds of homeowners near Interstate 470 and Pryor Road.
The mine site in Lee's Summit hasn't been fully operational since the 1980s. But four years ago, a new company began slowly extracting and hauling aggregate from the site.
Several months ago, neighbors in the area said they started hearing blasting coming from the quarry, and now, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has issued a permit allowing them to do it legally.
Rod Gravitt and his wife built their dream house across from an abandoned quarry in 2005. It's a perfect setting, nestled within Lee's Summit, but you feel completely secluded.
“If I didn’t hear that highway, you’d think I was in the Ozarks. I love it out here,” Gravitt said.
Even more unique is what's under his property: A sprawling cave-like space is there, the remains of a shelled-out quarry mine. The columns and ceiling appear pristine.
Five homesteads along Clifford Road sit partially on top of this mine and own the sections underground their property, including a few access points.
But now, Gravitt is worried his slice of heaven is being stripped away.
“I never dreamed the city would let some outfit come in here and strip mine it. And that’s what it is, a strip mine,” Gravitt said.
The operation is unthinkable to Gravitt because when Star Excavation, just down the street, started work to clear the mine four years ago, they agreed with the city there would be no blasting.
But that's all about to change.
“This is probably about 200 acres of develop-able land in the future, along Interstate 470, which is going to be the jobs corridor for eastern Jackson County and Lee’s Summit. Right now, it’s an environmental and economic brownfield. We’d like to put this back in use, put it on the tax rolls,” said William Brown, project manager for site developer Flip Short.
The company got a special use permit in 2013 from the city of Lee's Summit to redevelop the site. And this month, the Missouri DNR signed off on a permit to now allow blasting.
The developer said it's necessary as a more cost-effective and faster way to clear the land. As holes are made, they're hauling out the rock, then back-filling and gradually moving down the property, until approximately 70 acres of land are reclaimed for future development.
“It’s collapsing now. So you either do it in a controlled fashion, or you take your chances a huge sinkhole opens up,” Brown said.
The problem comes with the private access points and privately held underground mine space.
Star Excavation cites two studies that insist no homes or businesses should’ve ever been built on the land because of its instability.
Neighbors concerned about the blasting operation hired an independent geologist.
“My biggest fear is the unknown,” Gravitt said.
Geologist Charlie Spencer agrees part of the mine, where current hauling is underway, is unstable. But he said the areas below private homesteads are in excellent shape and could even be used for underground development.
Spencer believes the blasting activity that’s about to begin could cause irreparable damage to the homes and road above.
“Those types of repetitive vibrations can destabilize rock even if it is now stable. It’s analogous to taking a hammer and beating your wall. For the first few times, it may not make a dent. But eventually, your wall will suffer,” Spencer said.
Neighbors in the Bent Tree and Summerfield subdivisions across I-470 are worried about the impact they may suffer because of the blasting, too.
“We just wonder how many of those booms are going to go off over that time period and what’s the effect going to be on your foundation, cracks in the walls,” said Cliff Deal, a Summerfield resident.
Star Excavations' permit allows them to blast up to three times a week, over the next 16 years. While the city requires seismographic monitoring of blasts immediately adjacent (within 55 feet) to the quarry, there is no requirement for monitoring what’s underground to see the effects explosions have on nearby roads and homes.
“It may turn out not to be a hazard at all, but unless we’re monitoring that, we’re not going to know whether anything bad is happening,” Spencer said.
The developer insists it takes a "safety first" approach, and that it will take years to clear the entire mine and will be at least 5-7 years before they approach the next homestead.
As they approach those properties, it's possible they’ll offer landowners a buyout.
“We’re not going to knowingly do something that is going to put our reputation, our investment, at risk. We want to be good citizens, good community stewards, and that’s our plan,” Brown said.
Those concerned about Star Excavation’s plans have 30 days to appeal to the Missouri DNR, and many neighbors are planning to do that, hoping to get the blast permitting decision overturned.
The company has previously been issued a written warning by the Missouri DNR for blasting prior to being issued a permit. Star Excavation claims that was a mix-up related to the kind of explosives that were being used at the time. The company claims the ATF indicated to them that the kind of explosives being utilized were allowed, but after the state's warning, they learned otherwise and claim they discontinued blasting in October 2017.
The Bent Tree Bluffs Homeowners Association also released the following statement regarding their concerns with the blasting permit.
“The Board of Trustees and Elected Officials of the Bent Tree Bluffs Homeowners Association represent 327 homeowners in the Bent Tree Bluffs neighborhood of Lee’s Summit, Mo near the operations area of Star Excavation, Lee’s Summit, Mo 64086, which does some work in the rock quarry business.
"Recently the Missouri Department of Natural Resources approved a request allowing Star Excavation to use explosives on their work site. It is our understanding Star Excavation would also need approval from the City of Lee’s Summit to use explosives on the site. We are concerned about possible damage to our residential structures, due to the proximity of where the blasting would occur, if certain restrictions are not required when explosives are used.
"The Bent Tree Bluffs Homeowners Association is considering pursuing an appeal with the State of Missouri regarding the approval of the permit. The Association has also scheduled an upcoming meeting with City officials to discuss possible requirements that could be placed on the company, as part of the city permit, to protect our properties from damage that may be caused by the use of explosives at the site.”
The Lee’s Summit assistant city manager, Mark Dunning, told FOX4 the city does not have the ability to control blasting. It is only responsible for the current land reclamation special use permit issued to Star Excavation.
A provision was included to state if blasting was ever approved for the site, seismographic measurements would be required on the north and south sides of I-470. (But it does not specify the precise location or number of the measurements.) The permit also states seismographic reports must be made available to the public.
Star Excavation has set up a website to provide that data. You can access it here. Enter the username "star" and the password "star2018." The first data sets should be uploaded following the initial blasts on Wednesday.