By Leilani Haywood
Tribune Reporter

Tribune photos / Joey Hedges

About 100 Lee’s Summit residents crammed into a multi-purpose room at Legacy Touch to say they opposed using explosives in a land reclamation project on 29 acres at a hearing for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on March 28, 2018. Representatives from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Program, as well as from the DNR’s Kansas City, Missouri regional office and the Missouri State Fire Marshall were at the hearing. Justin Beaver, Lutrell Blasting, and Stephen Clancy, operations manager answered questions related to the explosives.

Developer Flip Short, the owner of Star Excavation LLC or Family Ranch LLC, is asking the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to change the special use permit granted on May 2, 2014, to allow explosives for the next 20 years to reclaim the mine for future development. Short is also the owner of Paragon Star LLC, a planned sports park, shopping center and mixed use development off of I-470 and View High Drive.

Residents near the site assert that the project has lowered air quality, lowered the resale value of their properties and homes as well as ruined their dreams for a quiet retirement. “For the last four years we have lived in a war zone,” Kathy Gravitt, a resident on Clifford Road said at the hearing. “I regret the day we ever built the house of our dreams there.”

Short’s attorney, Christine Bushyhead, hosted the contentious hearing where she advised residents to not attack the developer but to give their testimony. In a letter to residents in the Bent Tree Bluff and Summerfield Estates subdivision, Short stated, “Currently, there is a pending application for an amendment to a Land Reclamation Permit that I currently hold and is associated with on-going efforts to put the acreage associated with an existing abandoned underground mine in Lee’s Summit back into a productive and tax generating use. The area of the land reclamation project is north of I-470 and roughly between the Rock Island Railroad on the west and Pryor Road on the east. A land reclamation permit was issued by the State of Missouri on May 2, 2014. Since that time, we have been actively involved in land reclamation activities at the site.”

Short told residents in the letter, “The use of ‘explosives’ is required to ‘reclaim’ the land. We have looked at other methodologies to use in our reclamation operations and they have proven to be ineffectual and non-economic in nature. Our land reclamation permit, at our request, prohibited the use of explosives at the site. We believed that we could rely upon other methods and that we did not require the use of explosives to dislodge the ‘ceiling’ of the mine before crushing it and using it to create aggregate. We were in error and now we need to rectify the mistake that we made when seeking the permit.”

Short is seeking a change to the Special Use Permit to allow explosives to be used one to two times per week to remove limestone pillars in the abandoned mine. “We intend to only shoot the pillars or roof beam and allow the rooms to collapse from the weight of rock above after pillar has been shot,” Short said in his letter. “We estimate to be removing 3-6 pillars per week which should only require 1 to 2 shots per week. Once the material is on the ground, we will come with excavators and hydraulic hoe rams and process the material to prepare it for crushing.”
Star Excavation’s blast test shut down

Several residents stated that Short violated the permit by using ‘autostem’ blasts on the property between July 2017 and October 2017. “Unfortunately, I can’t prove the actions that have been heard but I know that other neighbors have heard the explosions as well and not just one.” Gravitt testified. “I know that Star Excavation has admitted to the blasting which is in violation of city and state permits.”

Charles Spencer, a geologist hired by owners on Clifford Road adjacent to the property, evaluated the plan before the permit was approved in May 2014. He said, “In regard to autostem, the ATF classified it as an explosive as early as 2013. There is written documentation of that. It’s been in the federal register since 2014 which published nitrocellulose explosives as a regulated explosive. So, it is known as an explosive long before 2017 by the ATF.”

In a letter to Mayor Pro Tem Rob Binney, Spencer said, “Although presumed to produce less vibrational energy (autostem) than traditional explosives, there is no guarantee that it would yield results satisfactory to the operator. Therefore, once use of explosives is permitted by the state, there may be no further regulation of the type of explosive used. Given that uncertainty, weaknesses in the provisions of the ordinance require that the Council needs to revisit its oversight requirements now that use of explosives will likely be allowed.”

Bushyhead said at the hearing when Star Excavation was using ‘autostem’ explosives at the site between July 2017 and October 2017, the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency didn’t classify it as an explosive. In October 2017, the ATF found a document classifying the ‘autostem’ method as an explosive. The ATF considers autostem to be a low explosive product as nothing more than a ‘champagne popper’ or ‘shot gun shell’ according to Bushyhead’s presentation. She stated during the hearing, “Autostem moves at a much slower rate than conventional dynamite or high explosives.” Short said in his letter, “Since January 2016, blasting permits were provided for the developments at (1) Village at View High, (2) Strother Crossing and (3) Summit Orchard.”

Star Excavation shut down the test after ATF notification of autostem’s reclassification as an explosive. Residents oppose the permit request to allow high-detonating explosives near their homes. David Phillips said, “But the problem is if we give you blank check, you can blow anything up.” Another resident on Clifford Road, Rod Rabbit said, “So if autostem doesn’t work he can go right to ammonium nitrate which is dynamite because he has a blasting permit and I guarantee you he will.” City rules don’t match state law for notification.

Rianna Deselich, president of the Unity Ridge Homeowners Association and a community activist, said at the hearing that Missouri state statute requires notification from an operating mine for homeowners, affected cities and counties within half-a-mile. “According to Jackson County GIS maps, Walnut Woods HOA is .46 miles away,” she said. “My friend Dawn and Ross Davis that live on Bannister Road and their neighbor are .4 miles away.” Deselich and residents within half-a-mile of the adjacent property did not receive any notification as required by state statute.

Deselich said her research that the City of Lee’s Summit’s notification rule of being within 180 feet doesn’t match state rules. She added, “My concern on notification is equal to my concern that blasting that has taken place in the wee hours of the night for the last five months without permission from the state of Missouri. My neighbors and others have heard many blasts coming from the direction of 470 and Pryor Road.” She read a letter from a resident, Nathan Windsor, who served in the military suffers from PTSD. “If blasting was authorized, we wouldn’t be able to safely live in our home,” Windsor wrote.

Cindy Hammer, a resident of Lee’s Summit for 35 years, gave a stirring appeal reminding Short of his promise to buy out the owners directly affected by the land reclamation project. “Flip you told me face to face that you knew you needed to buy them out. This breaks my heart that this goes on,” she said. “When does your motion come into play that this is going to affect people for 20 years. Where’s the right and where’s the wrong? To me that’s what’s been missing in this whole fact-finding regimen. Would you all want to live where all these people live? But on the other side of those homes is their livelihood, their retirement, their dream home is in that land, in their home.”
Impact of blast will be monitored.

Short said a seismograph set up by a third-party would be on two ends of the site during the project to track seismic activity. “We will be providing a seismograph at the site that will monitor the impact of the use of all explosives,” he said. “The public will be able to access the seismograph readings on a 24/7 basis.” The permit issued by the city states that the seismograph will be set on the north side and south side adjacent to I-470 said Spencer. “This doesn’t require the seismograph to be on the Clifford Road. I think the city should revisit this special use permit.”

Greg Carroll, Missouri State Fire Marshall, said, “The seismograph monitors the air blast and vibrations in the ground and how much it rattles the window. The vibration rattles the foundations. The device is set up by a third-party. If we get a complaint, the investigator does the blasting complaint and we pull the data to make sure the air blasting doesn’t exceed the limits (set by the state of Missouri).”

The next step after the hearing–the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has six weeks to either approve or deny the change to the permit. If they approve the permit and residents still object to the blasting, Larry Lehman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Program said that residents can file a petition for an administrative hearing with the Missouri Mining Commission. If that doesn’t stop the blasting, residents have the option of taking the developer to court, said Lehman.

City Councilmembers Trish Carlyle and Craig Faith who represent the residents did not comment on the permit request.