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We’re one year down the pike, and ain’t nuthin’ been done about fixing the mess the three stooges (aka Shannon County Commissioners) made on Big Creek, a tributary of the beautiful Current River. And since no effort has been made to repair the damage, the area looks even worse now. (Pictures of the scene today below the fold.)

Late last February, I wrote:

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.

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.

But in fact, Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club asserts they did know that permits were required. He knows that because an attorney at the Department of Natural Resources told him that Jo Ann Emerson was laying down covering fire for the commissioners at the Park Service before any of those blades of grass got moved. She called the Park Service and told them not to bother the commissioners after they were through meddling with Big Creek. When he filed a sunshine request for the Shannon County phone logs in order to verify that information, though, he got naught but silence.  


Once it became obvious that the commissioners intended to smirk at the law–again–Midkiff contacted the Attorney General’s office. That was almost as frustrating as dealing with Shannon County. Every time he called, he was told to leave his name and phone number and someone would get back to him. When some dweeboid gave him the same song and dance on the fifth phone call, Ken said, “Forget it, my next move will be to contact the press.” And he e-mailed me.

That threat did get a little bit of action. It got him a phone call from Jane Gummels (he wasn’t sure of the spelling). She informed him that the Sunshine Division of the AGO has no lawyers. They what? That’s right. NO lawyers.

All the lawyers in that division left with Nixon, so a month and a half after Koster took office, he had filled none of the 75 vacancies. Wasn’t there a Transition Period in which filling positions was supposed to have occurred?

All that frustration was mitigated by the MDNR’s decision to fine the Shannon County commissioners and require them to restore the section of Big Creek that they disfigured. Problem is, the commissioners were just as willing to ignore the MDNR as they were to ignore Midkiff’s sunshine request, and the agency finally turned the matter over to the AG.

As if that would do any good. Midkiff wrote me:

When I last spoke with Jack McManus (lead attorney for the AG), he relayed that they were “working with” the Shannon County Commission – because the AG treats elected officials with kid gloves (my interpretation of his words).   I pointed out that these people had violated federal and state laws and regs, that they were nothing more than criminals, and that I couldn’t understand why the AGO was “working with” criminals.

Meanwhile, that creek they straightened has flooded worse than ever. It was no longer beautiful last year, but at least it wasn’t ripping up trees by the roots.

Trees, though, are comparatively light and easy to move. You know that creek is mad when it starts moving boulders. Normally, a wing dam juts out from one bank, forcing the water toward the center of the stream. When several wing dams forced too much water to the center, it got so powerful that in flood season, it moved the boulders of the wing dams–one of them right out into the center of the channel. In fact, the water was so angry about being confined in that narrow channel that it created an extra channel for itself behind the wing dam.

And that meant that the newly rebuilt road, which was only a few feet from the stream, got flooded. Notice how the grader has had to come through and push gravel to the side of the flooded road. Of course, the stooges could have had a new road. On higher ground. For free.

And doing it that way would have prevented several extra tons of Missouri roaring downriver toward the Gulf of Mexico every year.

But what the hell. Why do it that way when you can break the law, get your congressminion to order the Park Service to ignore said lawbreaking, and thumb your nose at state agencies who want you to mitigate the screaming, godawful, screwed up mess you made. Who would want to do it the sensible, easy, cheap way?

Only the people who don’t need to be watered twice a day.

All the photos were taken by Sierra Club activists Tom and Angel Kruzen