Same Old, Same Old: Profiteering and Political Cronyism Presaged the Dumping of Radioactive Waste at West Lake Landfill
In 1969, the city of Bridgeton paid more than $200,000 for a 26-acre tract of land now known as the Bridgeton Athletic Complex (BMAC). The beneficiary of the land deal was an investment group headed by the late Kenneth Davis, co-owner of B&K Construction, the company responsible for later dumping tons of radioactively contaminated dirt at nearby West Lake Landfill.
Foes on the Bridgeton Council then estimated that investors made nearly a 100-percent profit on the deal, according to Bridgeton City Council minutes uncovered by STL Reporter.
Opponents also raised questions as to whether politics played a role in the lucrative transaction. Their suspicions centered on the cozy relationship between then-St. Ann Mayor Clarence Tiemeyer, one of the other investors in the land deal, and his frequent business partner Kenneth Davis, the co-owner of B&K. Tiemeyer was then considered the most powerful municipal leader in North St. Louis County.
The Bridgeton land deal transpired during the scandal-ridden mayoral administration of Earl Davis (no known relation to Kenneth Davis). Mayor Davis was indicted in 1969 by the St. Louis County prosecutor for bribing a land developer in a separate scheme. He was acquitted of that charge.
The BMAC ball fields became a point of controversy again last year, when a group of community activists charged that soil samples indicated the presence of Lead 210, a radioactive isotope at the site.
After the activists announced their findings in May 2014, then-Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers and EPA officials dismissed the evidence as unscientific and assured the public that the athletic fields were safe for use. Subsequent testing by the EPA confirmed the presence of radiation above background levels at the site but not exceeding the agency’s standard of remediation.
Activists countered by disputing the EPA’s methods and protocols.
Despite the recent attention, the history of the property has been largely ignored.
B&K Construction of St. Ann, Mo. dumped the radioactively contaminated materials at the landfill in North St. Louis County in 1973 while working under contract for the Cotter Corp. of Colorado.
Robert and Kenneth Davis, two brothers, formed B&K in 1954. During the long tenure of St. Ann Mayor Clarence Tiemeyer, the company maintained a profitable relationship with the city, receiving a raft of contracts for street repairs. In return, Kenneth Davis helped raise money for the mayor and his political allies.
Tieymeyer and Davis had other close ties, too, including sitting on the board of directors of Cherry Hills Country Club and Colonial Bank. The same bank would later be revealed to be the depository of Bridgeton Park Department funds even though it paid below average interest rates on the money.
A report issued by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1970 indicated that B&K employed off-duty police officers to guard the facility, which raises questions as to the possible complicity of local law enforcement in the illegal dumping, which has never been thoroughly investigated.
Tiemeyer was a political ally of the late Rep. Robert Young, who maintained an office in the same strip mall as B&K’s headquarters on Cypress Road. Young, a Democrat and a member of the politically powerful steamfitters union, served in the state legislature before becoming a U.S. congressman. In the early 1970s, press accounts revealed that Irene Young, the congressman’s wife, received payments from the city of St. Ann for acting as an insurance agent for the city.
During this period, Young’s union — Local 562 — held sway over politics in North St. Louis County, while its leadership was known to have ties to organized crime.