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Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club has a razor tongue when it’s called for and the gift of persistence. He has been applying both to an official at EPA 7 and to a couple of bumbling bureaucrats in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources over their failure to enforce penalties on local officials who have scarred and maimed two of our beautiful Ozark waterways.

This is how Dixon’s Crossing on the headwaters of the Jacks Fork used to look, before Peirce Township, ignoring the permit requirements, brought in a road grader.

And ruined it.

That was in 2004. Once environmentalists noticed the carnage, they contacted EPA7 and eventually a $14,000 fine was levied. Peirce Township had until the end of September of this year, that’s five years, to spend $14 thou mitigating the damage. So all through October, Midkiff has been dashing off e-mails to Howard Bunch at EPA7, asking whether the fines are being enforced and getting wishy washy references to “working with” Peirce Township. He began to suspect the worst:

Did EPA7 grant an extension to Peirce Township?  This is a YES or NO question.

If so, what is the length of the extension?     How many weeks, months, years, decades, millennia?

These questions are not difficult to answer.

Please respond.

He finally faced the maddening truth, that no penalty would be forthcoming and he pointed out that Peirce County Supervisors knew when they broke the law that a permit was required.

I just learned that Peirce Township of Texas County was under a “cease and desist” order for a similar sand-and-gravel operation on a tributary of the Jacks Fork (Pine Creek?) AND the supervisors had attended a class on sand-and-gravel mining at which obtaining a permit was discussed.

They were not, in fact, ignorant of the federal requirement for obtaining a 404 CWA permit.  To the contrary, they were well aware, but flouted the law anyhow.   Just downstream of the illegal work on the Jacks Fork River is the boundary of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway.    If this type of illegal activity is allowed to impact a nationally-protected river, then there is little hope for protection of anything else.

To reiterate:  The Settlement Agreement term expired as of the end of September, for illegal activities in the summer of 2004.  The Peirce Township Board of Supervisors knowingly broke federal law and the lawbreakers had 5 years to make amends, but you have graciously decided not to enforce the law, instead granting an extension.  MDC folks looked for mitigation projects, but found none – so I can only conclude that Peirce Township will submit some “make work” mitigation proposals.

Finally, Linda Garrett of the Texas County Commission informed Tony Orchard of the Shannon County Commission that Shannon County could conduct sand-and-gravel mining on Big Creek (a major tributary of the Current River) without obtaining any federal permit, because all that could be expected would be a slap on the wrist.  Fines, penalties?  Forget about it!

Think about  it. Linda Garrett of Texas County–Peirce Township’s county–advised Shannon County Commissioners not to worry about ignoring permit requirements. She should know. And the Shannon County officials took her advice. On a section of beautiful Big Creek, a tributary of the Current River, they wreaked similar havoc this last year to what Peirce Township did at Dixon’s Crossing in 2004.

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.

   

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.

And that same Tony Orchard who got advice from the helpful lady in Texas County? He had the gall to flip environmentalists the bird:

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?

For all the good it is doing, Midkiff is complaining bitterly to Tim Duggan and Jack McManus at the MDNR:

I was distressed to hear that you are “working with” lawbreakers.   The Shannon County commissioners knew full well that they were required to obtain a federal 404 permit and that DNR must issue a 401 Certification.  Shannon County Commission knowingly – perhaps willfully – violated the law.

A representative of the US Army Corps of Engineers (responsible for issuing 404 permits) told me they would never have granted permission for the blatant travesty that occurred.

And, yet, you work with those who perpetrated the mess and violated state and federal law in doing so.

Midkiff is disgusted with Duggan and McManus, as well as with AG Chris Koster, for letting Shannon County off the hook. Not to mention Howard Bunch at EPA7. He’s concluded that sometimes “the agencies and individuals that are to protect our natural resources are asleep at the wheel.” And they refuse to wake up even when he jabs them in the ribs.