Doe Run lead smelter smokestack closing doors
HERCULANEUM, MO (KTVI)– It is hard to take a picture anywhere in Herculaneum, Missouri, population 3,468, and not see the Doe Run lead smelter smokestack.
It has been that way for more than 120 years.
“Having grown up here, I didn’t think I could ever imagine it being gone,” said Herculaneum Mayor Bill Haggard, “but it is going to be gone.”
It’s the last lead smelter of its kind left in the United States. While it put money in people’s pockets, the federal government said it put too much lead in the air, and on the ground. The company ended up buying up and cleaning up a lot of homes near the plant.
But in a matter of days, Doe Run will close its smelter, costing the area about 300 jobs, though 75 employees are expected to stay for a while to run the refinery and prepare the plant for closure. Sixty more will transfer to other Doe Run facilities.
“It will be a loss to the area, a pretty good loss really for the jobs, the taxes, a little bit of everything,” said Al Beckham, Yard Supervisor at Buchheit Supply, one of the city’s largest stores.
These days, only a couple dozen Doe Run employees still live in Herculaneum. Many switched jobs or left town after a bitter strike in the 1990s.
But everyone in Herculaneum will be affected by the closure.
“We are going to be out some tax dollars, but with the Hancock Amendment, you just re-write the levy and those tax dollars get spread around to all the other taxpayers,” said Jim Kasten, Herculaneum City Administrator.
Harder to replace than lost tax dollars will be all the bonuses of life in a company town.
It was Doe Run that built the town’s $1 million fire station and sponsored sporting events and scholarships.
“It is kind of bittersweet, is the best way I can describe it,” said Dunklin Schools Superintendent Stan Stratton. “Sorry to see it go and yet at the same time maybe hope for a more healthy environment.”
Knowing the end of the smelter was coming, Herculaneum has spent the past two years trying to re-invent itself, improving roads and bridges and participating in the developing industrial port on the Mississippi, located just below the smelter.
“We are busy trying to rebuild, trying to attract new, do the infrastructure and do those kind of things that are going to make people want to come here as a business or a resident,” Kasten said.
“We are not quitters.”
In a press release from Doe Run, about the closure, Gary Hughes, general manager of Doe Run’s metals division said, “Our final production days will be our best.”