The sky is falling. Blame Jay.

I hadn’t planned on covering much Missouri news until I open, but the situation at Johnson’s Shut-Ins is getting ridiculous.

Now our Republican Lt. Gov is having a press conference at the Shut-Ins to basically blame Jay Nixon–state Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor–for the fact that Ameren is refusing to follow through on its commitment to restore Johnson’s in a timely enough manner for the park to open this year.

The issue? There is criminal investigation–originally demanded by Governor Blunt, and ordered by a Reynolds County Judge–into the reservoir breach and Ameren has decided it won’t do anything until this is ‘resolved’. This investigation would normally fall into the province of the local district attorney, but he had a conflict of interest and the investigation than fell to the state attorney general’s office.

What an ideal situation for Governor Blunt this turned out to be: use Jay Nixon doing his job against him. Demand that Nixon’s office do an investigation and then castigate him for doing so.

The Republican governor and Lt. Governor, and various Republican state officials, as well as the Republican controlled Department of Natural Resources seem to think this is a real godsend, because they can Blame Jay whenever anything happens to delay the opening of this park. Ameren isn’t unhappy about the situation either, because it can use it to pit the parties against one another, until eventually Ameren gets off with no more than a slap on the wrist for its actions.

  • Let’s ignore Ameren’s written and verbal commitments right after the breach to fix the park and the river as soon as possible.
  • Let’s ignore the fact that until the park is fixed and the river is stabilized, the water quality is suffering and Ameren should be facing daily fines for such.
  • Why don’t we ‘forget’ the idea of the state actually paying for the repairs and then getting reimbursed from whatever settlement is derived in the upcoming lawsuit.
  • We can also forget that if this dam break had happened in the peak season, most likely hundreds, maybe even thousands of people would have been injured or killed.
  • While we’re at it, let’s ignore the folks in Reynolds County who are dependent on this park for part of their livelihood. Oh that’s right: let’s keep the school system dependent on Ameren taxes so that the county can’t aggressively push for accountability from the company. So, while we’re at it, let’s not use state money to support the school systems, either.

No need to be reminded that the qualified people who were running the DNR–through both Republican and Democrat administrations–were all fired the very day that Governor Blunt took office, so that he could put in a Doyle Childers, a Republican crony who had exceeded term limits in state office and needed a job. A man who has demonstrated that corporate and big farm issues matter much more to him then something like the clean water and the environment which, after all, don’t pay taxes or donate money to political campaigns. A man who does not have the ability or background to lead the DNR, much less have the decency to put politics aside to do his job.

Jay Nixon is doing his job as Attorney General. He’s not turning this into a political windfall. He could as easily ‘drop’ the suit and become an instant hero–but then what happens the next time Ameren decides it’s more economical to just ignore maintenance on one of their projects rather than shut down profitable energy generating operations? After all, the company doesn’t have to follow through on its commitments, not while Governor Blunt and his cronies control so much of the DNR.

This isn’t a big national story and most of you probably won’t care about what happens in this state. But the problems at the highest level of government don’t just happen by themselves–using government resources to support a political agenda starts at the local levels, and when such mechanizations are ignored or tolerated, propagate to the highest offices in the land.

I’m so mad right now I could spit. If I had known sooner that the Lt. Gov and several REPUBLICAN state officials were planning a little shindig at the park–our park, our state park, the one that belongs to all of us, not just the Republicans–I would have driven over there to see if we could turn this into a real question and answer session, instead of the blatant political get together this is turning out to be.

More at Black River News herehere and here. Make sure to read the comments.

“Blame Jay”, indeed.

Then there’s the new one from Black River News, from an unspecified tipster:

Thursday Mactec and Ameren presented to DNR for approval the final drawings for the ‘scenic overlook’ over the scour and the new campground on Goggins. DNR couldn’t/wouldn’t approve them. A representative each from Mactec and Ameren had to walk out of the meeting for a while to cool off. They are extremely frustrated with DNR’s plodding. I’m told Mactec has only a week or two of work to do on it’s current schedule, and unless DNR approves some plans soon they are going to be sitting on their hands.

If this is true, then this is evidence of gross negligence and malfeasance. How far is Childers willing to go to make Nixon ‘look bad’?

Ameren just issued a press release about 20 minutes ago, stating in part:

AmerenUE officials today stressed that it’s their belief that the Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park can be opened for day use this summer if all parties — including state agencies — work together to make the park available to Missouri’s citizens.

AmerenUE has been working diligently for the past 15 months to restore and repair the damage to the park resulting from the Taum Sauk Reservoir breach.

“We believe the park can and should be reopened for more extensive public use later this summer, including swimming in the Shut-Ins,” says AmerenUE President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas R. Voss. “However,
that will take a cooperative effort by all parties. At AmerenUE, we are ready and willing to discuss this with all pertinent agencies.”

AmerenUE believes a safe and restored river system, shut-ins access and security controls can be in place so that portions of the park can be opened by July 1. Ongoing construction activities can be segregated from public use areas so that restoration activities can continue uninterrupted.

This summer, visitors to the park would be able to enjoy the newly rebuilt park store, newly restored picnic areas and a boardwalk that provides access to areas where they can enjoy swimming in the shut-ins.

Over the past 15 months, the company has moved to restore areas affected by the breach of the Taum Sauk upper reservoir. Since the day of the Dec. 14, 2005, breach, AmerenUE and its contractors have:
— removed nearly 15,000 truckloads of material from the site;
— restored the delicate “fen” — a unique and sensitive forested wetlands with distinct features and vegetation — crews literally removed debris and silt by hand.
— worked to improve water quality in the lower reservoir and Black River;
— graded and seeded the campground area in Johnson’s Shut-Ins, rebuilt the camp store and repaired the boardwalks.

Meanwhile, the company has supported the local economy, settling thousands of dollars worth of claims, conducting an aggressive advertising campaign to promote tourism in the Taum Sauk area, and launching an award-winning Web site to give local businesses a way to reach a range of audiences.

Actually the aggressive advertising campaign and ‘award winning website’ was a dud — a passive web site that was never updated. But it’s interesting about the supposed items that have been finished.

Exactly why is the park not opening? Who is doing what, now, and how much is finished?

This is getting absurd. The DNR says last week the park can’t open this summer–work not done. Now Ameren is saying, well, yes the work is done. Which is it? Either the work is done, or it’s not. Either the park can open, or it can’t. If the work is that far along, what exactly is the hold up at the DNR? There shouldn’t be any need of a finalized lawsuit or criminal action to open the park.

What is DNR’s reason for not opening the park?

Third Update

Talk about breaking news, the St. Louis Business Journal just issued a story about the conflict between DNR and Ameren. You can read the story here. Here is the DNR press release associated with the story.

The press release, which is almost incoherent, has the following:

“We have had a plan to reopen Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park this summer that ensures public safety,” said Childers. “The State of Missouri and its citizens do not want a last-minute, band-aid fix that severely limits their use of the resource this summer. We simply cannot allow visitors into Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park under dangerous conditions.”

When the shut-ins are available for swimming, there is a great deal of public use and need for services. The heavy rains of the past two weeks have caused rebar and other dangerous materials to surface again in the shut-ins.

They don’t have to allow swimming in order to open the park. Just being able to visit the park and the shut-ins would be sufficient. The park didn’t have swimming last year, and a lot of people would like to take a peek at what’s happening with the restoration, visit the fens, walk the boardwalk by the shut-ins.

Childers keeps bringing up issues related to Nixon, yet Ameren has not once made a statement to this effect. All Ameren has asked is that the agencies involved work together, and the company has a right to ask this.

It wasn’t that long ago when Nixon’s office made a statement that the DNR and the AG had worked towards a solution, when all of a sudden, the DNR pulled out. Issued a press release condemning Nixon. Totally blew off all the work that had been accomplished.

Time for Childers to be replaced. Time for Missouri to forget Gonzales and Bush and pay attention to the problems in our own backyard.

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