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Is it safe to replace bridge over Coldwater Creek? Hearing may provide answers

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Questions still linger as Coldwater Creek remediation continues

Contaminated dirt is prepared at the Army Corps of Engineers FUSRAP facility on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, before being loaded onto rail cars and carried from the Coldwater Creek floodplain along James S. McDonnell Boulevard by St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Photo by Christian Gooden,

NORTH COUNTY — The St. Louis County Council will hold a hearing Tuesday to review plans to replace the James S. McDonnell Boulevard bridge over Coldwater Creek, which recently drew questions from environmentalists concerned about radioactive soil at the site just north of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

“We just want to make sure that workers and the public are being protected and that procedures are being put in place to ensure that,” said Christen Commuso, policy specialist for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

The Coalition and Just Moms STL, a volunteer group, said they recently learned of the project because of a bill before the council that would amend a contract for design work originally approved in early 2020. County officials confirmed Friday that the hearing will take place Tuesday in council chambers in Clayton.

The current plan calls for a complete closure of the roadway in mid-2023 to demolish the bridge, remediate the site and then build a new bridge.

County Department of Transportation and Public Works spokesman Dave Wrone said planning was done in close coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been removing contaminated soil along Coldwater Creek for years.

The demolition would not require any work below ground, and there wouldn’t be any digging done until the Corps is able to remediate the site, he said. He said more details would be provided at the hearing Tuesday.

The Corps has been removing soil along the north St. Louis County creek for several years, mitigating environmental damage caused by the illegal dumping of radioactive waste. The waste is a legacy of work undertaken in the 1940s by Mallinckrodt Chemical Co., which enriched uranium for the nation’s atomic weapons program.

“We have indeed been in close coordination with (St. Louis) County and are looking to take advantage of the opportunity to remove as much contaminated soil as possible while the area is accessible due to bridge removal,” Phil Moser, a program manager with the Corps, said in a statement.

Coldwater Creek runs 19 miles through north St. Louis County, from the airport to the Missouri River. McDonnell Boulevard crosses the creek just north of the airport, in an industrial area that is home to several businesses, including Boeing. Tests done by the Corps have found contaminated soil under the boulevard and along the bridge.

Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, who represents the 2nd District, said Friday that the council hearing would help “make sure that we’re all on the same page and that the plan is one that can work while also keeping the community and workers safe,” she said.

Wrone said the bridge is more than 70 years old and needs to be fully replaced.

“It’s deteriorating to the point where it’s not practical to maintain,” he said.

Dawn Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms STL, said they don’t want to stop the project.

“The worst thing that could happen would be if it crumbles into the creek,” she said. “But this is anything but a normal bridge replacement. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen safely, it just means that it needs extra precautions and those have to be understood and highlighted.”

The hearing will take place at 5 p.m. in council chambers in downtown Clayton at 41 S. Central Avenue.

The county originally approved the contract with M3 Engineering Group for $360,000 on April 24, 2020. If amended by the council, the contract would increase to $394,058.

The move is estimated to save the county $375,000 in construction costs and shorten the project duration by four months, according to officials.

Nassim Benchaabane • 314-340-8167 @NassimBnchabane on Twitter


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Reporter covering St. Louis County politics. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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