CHARLESTON -- Landowners in Mississippi County should look at offers to survey for uranium as an opportunity, according to County Commissioner Martin Lucas.
During the regular County Commission meeting Thursday, Lucas voiced his support for the efforts to determine how much uranium is within the county.
"A lot of people don't like to see change," Lucas said. But changes are often for the better, he said, offering as examples the construction of the Southeast Correctional Center near Charleston and all the different crops that have been grown in the county over the years.
Lucas said Mississippi County could end up being one of the nation's most important uranium sources as those seeking the metal believe it is located closer to the surface in Mississippi County than in other areas and thus less expensive to extract.
"If it is, that would be one good opportunity for the county," he said. "That's employment; revenue."
Lucas said the interested party is offering $5 per acre for exploratory leases in conjunction with commitment leases allowing them to install wells for the recovery operation if uranium concentrations are high enough.
Landowners are not asked to invest any of their money for the exploratory wells which cost $30,000 to $40,000 each, Lucas said.
"Nobody has to put any money up," Lucas said. "There's no way to lose." Lucas said the landowners even get to pick where the exploratory wells are built.
Only a single landowner has accepted the offer so far, according to Lucas, with an exploratory lease on 1,000 acres. "I don't understand it," he said. "They all pretty well know about it."
Land that is selected for mining the uranium could bring in $2,000 to $3,000 per acre, according to Lucas.
He said even if there is no significant uranium deposits found, the landowner will at least be getting a complete geological survey at no cost.
If it is determined the land has significant amounts of uranium, the metal would be removed by solution mining. This process pumps solution into the deposit and then pumps the dissolved ore to the surface to be processed. The ore is then extracted from the water using what Lucas described as essentially "a big water softener."
Uranium ore would be processed in the county to make "yellowcake" which would then be transported to Paducah, Ky., for further processing.
As government regulations are strict, it would be 10 years before any mining operation would begin, Lucas said.
In other business Thursday:
* Commissioners are now waiting on final approval from the Missouri Department of Transportation for a bridge replacement project on County Road 522.
Dennis Cox of Smith and Company in Poplar Bluff updated commissioners and got their signatures on final paperwork for the project which will use funds allocated to the county through the Off-Systems Bridge Replacement Program.
The 24-foot wide bridge will have 16-inch-tall guardrails as requested by commissioners so farm equipment will be able to cross the bridge. "We got that changed," Cox confirmed. "It's still tall enough it would keep a car or truck on the road."
Asked by Blumenberg if the bump approaching the bridge will still be there, Cox advised there will be no bump as the approach is less than a 3-percent slope.
Cox said MoDOT does not allow him to publicly disclose the estimated cost before bids are received as "it's a competitive bid."
Once MoDOT approves the project, the next step is to advertise for bids for 21 days, according to Cox, after which bids will be opened and the contract awarded.
The contractor will have 120 days to complete the project but is likely to finish within six weeks, Cox said.
A project like this "really lends itself to a short construction schedule," Cox said. "Honestly, on a single-span bridge we've never seen them go over eight weeks."
* Lucas said MoDOT is cleaning out ditches alongside Highway 80 west of East Prairie. MoDOT will also replace some culverts, he said.
"It's a major project," Lucas said.
Work on the ditches started at the Baptist Church, according to Lucas. He predicted they will continue west a little over a half mile.
Lucas said he thinks the project will improve drainage for some areas adjacent to the work but not all of them. "It won't help the Oliver Subdivision," he predicted.