Legal, Laws, and Regs

Speaking of which

I had written about the proposed projects for the five million in fines FERC fined Ameren. I may be interested in what’s happening in the aftermath of the Taum Sauk dam break, but one thing I’m not is a ‘local’, with a local’s intimate knowledge of the politics and the organizations. Black River News points today to a letter that a local, James Hawley, sent as response to the recommended proposals, and it is a direct look at how political many of the recommendations are.

(The FERC correspondence system is based on scanned correspondence and uses Java to display such, so the system isn’t particularly friendly. Access the letter through FERC, clicking on the link labeled Project Correspondence in the right side of the page–Hawley’s letter is the first in the list. If you have pop-up blockers, you’ll have to allow the site to open new windows to use the FERC document viewer.)

Among some of the criticisms of approved projects:

3) Case end loader, boom axe mower and two dump trucks–First, has any qualified company or person outside of the area looked at the existing trucks and equipment Reynolds County owns? Second, a boom axe mower is not environmentally friendly. It rips, mutilates and kills trees and vegetation. The Reynolds County Commissioners requested $259,500.00 for these trucks and equipment. I as others can’t get our roads maintained. Why would we want this equipment when only the selected get their county roads maintained? This again is for political gain and definitely should not be approved.

14) Building construction, dog purchase, and operational expenses for establishing a training facility for search-and-rescue dogs–This is the wording from AmerenUE’s web site, which exposes the deceptive motives from this panel. This wording doesn’t reveal that this is for hiring a K-9 handler and training center for drug and bomb sniffing dogs. Again, this money should not go for salaries and we don’t need bomb sniffing dogs.

22)Marketing and advertising campaign for the Iron County Hospital–This is a local hospital and everyone in the community knows where it is. People will not drive from Farmington, Potosi or anywhere else when their cities already have hospitals. The local paper says it’s for doctor recruitment. Which is it? Marketing and advertisement or doctor’s recruitment. Either way $70,000.00 is a lot of money for either purpose. Did they detail where this money is to be spent? This would be a total waste of money.

24) Purchase of a CT Scanner for the Advanced Healthcare Medical Center — This Center has had major financial problems in the past. This is supported by the Panels stipulation of “If the center goes out of business clause”. It states that the equipment must stay in Reynolds County if the Center goes out of business. The hospital in Iron County went out of business and it was years before another one was built. What is Reynolds County going to do if the Center goes under? Where will this scanner be stored and for how long?

The letter brings up more than enough to force FERC to get involved with this process. It seems to me that Ameren has used this to ‘buy’ the goodwill of the power elite in the community, which is not compatible with FERC’s admittedly vague and somewhat indifferent guidelines.

What I thought was even more interesting was a comment Hawley’s comments about a couple of the board members and their view of the Johnson’s Shut-Ins. He wrote:

One voting panel member, Jim Chadbourne, and the county commissioner, Wayne Henson, who had an influence with some of the projects, do not even understand the economic value of the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park. They have both stated that the park doesn’t bring any revenue to Reynolds or Iron County. With this bias, it’s obvious that they would summit projects away from “at or near the affected area”. We own a family campground and lodge next to the State Park and 85% of our business comes from the overflow of the Park.

Before the dam broke and one time when I was out at the park during the winter, among the visitors were a young couple from Japan, and a family from Germany. This during the down time, in a cold January where ice formed along the Shut-Ins. This region has such potential for tourism. Managed carefully and promoted wisely, it could be a strongly sustaining source of income for residents, as well as taxes for the community. It could be a place for families in the summer, and a business retreat or educational opportunity in the winter. With the unfortunate Taum Sauk dam break, there is even more potential for bringing visitors into the community–though such effort does require some imagination on the part of community leaders.

I’m astonished how little some of the people in the area seem to value what they have. To them, the Taum Sauk dam break seems less a tragedy, and more an unexpected windfall, which is an atrocious way to treat this event. Add this to the silence regarding the ongoing effort with the cleanup and I can’t see how the people of Missouri are being well served b this panel, or Ameren’s, efforts.


The local story

Quite an interesting give and take between Dan Gillmor and David Lazarus on newspaper survival, weblogs, and the usual. I wrote several comments in Dan’s post, most of which I won’t repeat here. One that’s incidental to the discussion between Gillmor and Lazarus I will repeat and that has to do with covering the local news.

Dan doesn’t think local news coverage is important, as compared to national and international news. I think, in a way, this is symptomatic of where much of the failure of ‘citizen journalism’ arises, because if weblogs would be good for anything, it would be local coverage. Especially since local coverage is also the area being cut by so many publications, such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Yes, local news is covered, but typically only that relevant to St. Louis rather than Missouri as a whole; or with some major significance to a great number of people, has ghoulish interest, or ‘human appeal’: Highway 40, puppies saved, people killed, and an extraordinary number of sex scandals…oh look, another one today.

It’s the ‘quiet’ stories we’re losing in the rush to get eyeballs. The small stories, the local stories, the stories that explore more than expose; inform rather than titillate. These quiet stories are those that weblogs could capture, but webloggers, excuse me, citizen journalists, see themselves as the next Edward R. Murrow and disdain such small stuff.

We aren’t Edward R. Murrow, though. Heck, even Edward R. Murrow wasn’t Edward R. Murrow–or, at least, not the legend we’ve made out of the man. We don’t have CBS behind us, or even Fox in a pinch. We certainly don’t have the newspapers. All we have is an interest, the energy to follow the interest, at least a rudimentary understanding of written language (though its difficult to meet all of it’s requirements), and a place to put the results when we’re finished. Oh, and Google, Yahoo, and various assorted sundry aggregators to come along and slurp it up–slurping not necessarily meaning thoughtful consumption.

One local story I’m following is the Taum Sauk dam break and the events with Ameren and Nixon and Childers…oh my! There was such global coverage when the dam’s water first swept down the hill, and how quickly forgotten when people realized no one died and this was in the back woods of the Ozark mountains in Missour-ah for god’s sake (praise Jesus).

Oh, every once in a while one newspaper or another will print something: Childer’s same old accusation about Nixon (making every Republican in the state cringe with each repetition); FERC imposed fines on Ameren and kept 2/3rds for itself; that Ameren is being yelled at by yet another community group; about Blunt finding himself absorbed into a new state called The State of the Department of Natural Resources of Missouri, where he can pretend he makes all the rules and the rest of us don’t laugh at him.

For the most part, no, it seems that this story is no longer a story. Or, well, it is a story, but a quiet one and we all know that eyeballs don’t get attached to quiet stories. Ads go where the eyeballs flow, and news organizations are down to scraping ink off their shoes to make the next printing–they need the money.

I’ve been getting what news I can on the Taum Sauk cleanup from Lee over at Black River News–and I bet he gets a lot of angry looks at the local cake walk and town fair–with occasional notes from Fired Up Missouri and Columbia Tribune and its weblogs. I could probably find information from the Ironton Mountain Echo newspaper in the area, but it doesn’t have an online site. Understandable because there is no broadband internet access–hard to publish online when there is no ‘line’. Mostly I rely on the Black River News, the weblog, and its comments where we exchange rumors, and sometimes rural and city meet to sneer at each other over effluvium laden waters.

Take the newest rumor: that no work is currently going on at Johnson’s to repair the flood damage, as Ameren doesn’t want to put money into such effort while the lawsuit is pending. How odd, considering that Ameren is willing to put money into rebuilding the Taum Sauk reservoir, with its 98 million in income generation a year.

The Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Ameren web sites haven’t put up any significant news in over six months; not one update or work in progress. We know that a proposal was accepted for re-building the park, with an order to begin given in September, but nothing from the park since: not a photo, not a quip, not even some cute little kid’s drawing of a boulder, souvenir of Lesterville’s First Grade field trip to see the Important People Making Things Better.

Surely with Ameren’s current PR-challenged state, the kid and the rock, happy smiling baby fish, and muscled, mustachioed men wearing flannel as they build things are de rigeur . Nope. Nada. The reverberations from the silence are making themselves felt all the way to…well, obviously not Jefferson City.

I am writing a longer essay on the whole event and had hoped to have updated information. As delicious as rumors are, facts do make a better story. No, really. I guess I must go find facts, then.

This is when being a ‘weblogger’ hits a wall not bumped by the journalist working for an organization. I called around yesterday to get some form of an update, and possibly even permission to go in for photos of work in progress. You’d think since this is a public story and this is public land, and all the people involved have such big, public mouths I could get an update, but no.

I called the DNR ombudsman here in St. Louis, but he was out, and someone else wasn’t available, and I should call the DNR, directly. I called the director’s office at the DNR and one person answered and then switched me to another, an older lady who sounded nice, but flustered, and who asked why I was asking. I thought about saying, “Well, I was writing this here thousand dollar donation to the Republican Party, when I was reminded of the Johnson’s and how I used to love to go there when I was a tyke”, but settled for the truth, which is probably a mistake: I said I was writing a story. She then switched me to the Johnson’s Shut-Ins park office, but warned me I might not get an answer because some form of conference was happening.


I did call, and found there’s a naturalist at the park, a park superintendent, and a park ranger (“press 1 for the park naturalist, press 2 for…”). Going to the top, I put in messages with the Park superintendent, who naturally did not call back (“Burningbird? WTF?”). There was a sort of updated page this morning with a reference to opening in 2008, but now it’s gone again.

I, being little ole me, did not get a call back, but if I were from say, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then I’m sure as Bob is your uncle and Amy your aunt, I’d have gotten through to a human being somewhere. However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who can wave the magic “Let me in or you’ll look like crap” wand, isn’t interested because the Cardinals manager got busted for drunk driving. Eyeballs flow better with booze.

I imagine I’ll find some of what I need for my story, using whatever laws govern our supposed public agencies…and my best telephoto lens. Hopefully I’ll hear new rumors over Black River News, too. When I’m done editing the story in my own charmingly amateurish way, I’ll publish it online: most likely at the new MissouriGreen site, possibly here, maybe both. It will go into Google, Yahoo, MSN, and be fed into aggregators that aren’t too proud to scarf any story, quiet or not. If enough people link to it, it might even make it into the first couple of pages of a Google search.

A quiet way to publish a quiet story that no one else wants.


Losing the local


I wrote in comments to Dan Gillmor’s post yesterday that David Lazurus sounded frustrated and perhaps even frightened, and then today I read from Tim O’Reilly that the San Francisco Chronicle is in trouble. This follows on from ValleyWag, which has stated that the long-term publication, InfoWorld, is closing it’s doors: news I’ve been expecting ever since Jon Udell left the publication.

What’s interesting with all of this is that people keep conflating these publications with ‘hard’ copy that’s put on the street. These organizations are more than just a way to add to land fill: they provide the infrastructure from which discovery is made and then passed on. Oh, it may seem as if most of these publications only put out crap nowadays, but if you’ll look closely, you’ll see the quiet stories, the unexciting facts, and stuff we need to know to go about our lives. We have taken all of this for granted, and like the song, we won’t know what we’ve lost until it’s gone.

On the possibility of losing our local publications, Tim writes:

We talk about creative destruction, and celebrate the rise of blogging as citizen journalism and Craigslist as self-service advertising, but there are times when something that seemed great in theory arrives in reality, and you understand the downsides. I have faith both in the future and in free markets as a way to get there, but sometimes the road is hard. If your local newspaper were to go out of business, would you miss it? What kinds of jobs that current newspapers do would go undone?

We’d lose all of our quiet stories, for a start. We’ll lose our quiet stories, and then we’ll be reminded that the Big Stories were once quiet stories that someone found and told.