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Molly Ivins once wrote of a local politician that “if his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.” Apparently Texas had at least one elected official as thick-witted as Missouri’s Shannon County Commissioners. I don’t know whether the victim of Molly’s prose was arrogant into the bargain, but trust me that the three commissioners are.

They’ve wreaked havoc on a section of beautiful Big Creek, a tributary of the Current River. Both streams are part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and thus protected by the National Park Service. Any in-stream activity requires a permit from the federal government and a water quality certification from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Apparently, the Commissioners decided to wave a dismissive hand at those interfering city folk, because, without permission of any kind, they channelized (straightened) about a thousand yards of the creek, built “wing-dams”  to make sure the meandering stream flowed faster, and piled gravel twenty feet high on each side of the creek.

Generally, I oppose the death penalty, but in this case ….

Presumably, the reason they did this was to stop the flooding of a nearby road, which they then rebuilt. Unfortunately, they chose to ignore the fact that the road was on private property owned by the L.A.D. Foundation and that the foundation did not want that road rebuilt. Indeed, the foundation’s board had offered the County an easement to build another road on higher ground. It was a sensible offer, especially considering that federal funds are available for building roads in that area, so doing so would not have cost the county anything–would have provided some jobs, in fact.

Furthermore, Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club tells me that hydrologists and engineers have informed him that the changes to Big Creek not only won’t stop the flooding in the spot, they are likely to increase it.

So. Let’s tally up the stupidity. The Commissioners broke federal law in order to damage a beautiful waterway. After they defiled that, they built a road on private property without permission when they already had an offer to build a flood-free road at no expense to themselves. The road they rebuilt will flood again, probably sooner than it would have if they’d left the lovely creek undamaged.

As for the arrogance of the Commissioners, how’s this? Tony Orchard, the presiding commissioner, told the Post-Dispatch that “Some people are just going to get carried away if you move a piece of grass the wrong way.” It’s beyond him to imagine why anyone would care what they did to Big Creek. It’s also beyond the trio of dunces, or so Commissioner Dale Counts claims, to understand all that bureaucratic red tape for permits to breathe and certification before you can cross the road. He didn’t know about all those hoops the commission was supposed to jump through, all right?

Really? Commissioners who don’t need to be watered twice a day would know that. Ken Midkiff observed:

[I]f you get pulled over by a state trooper for tooling along at 90 mph on one of our state highways or interstates, it is highly unlikely that claiming, “Gee, I didn’t know there was a speed limit” will get you off the hook. You were speeding; ignorance of the law is no excuse, and you’d be issued a ticket.

But the pretense of ignorance evaporates anyway in light of the fact that the Commissioners had their Congresswoman, Jo Ann Emerson, calling the Parks Service–before it moved a blade of grass–telling the Service not to bother them about it after they did. Midkiff says a Park Service attorney told him that Emerson had called the D.C. office to communicate that message.

Midkiff has been pursuing that story through Freedom of Information requests. It’s a good thing he’s persisting, because the paper of record in Shannon County is the Current Wave in Eminence–which hasn’t printed so much as a peep on this story. Check here for the next installment in this unfolding story, the one where you find out how Midkiff has been stonewalled so far by Shannon County and the AG’s office.