The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is, by law, there to protect citizens of this state from pollution. But instead of pollution prevention, current leadership of DNR seems to have converted it into a polluter protection agency.

Case in point: According to neighbors and an inspector with DNR, Spring Creek is crystal clear above the MidwayUSA area recently rezoned by the Boone County Commission from Agricultural to Multiple Use, including industrial. Not so below the site, which the creek flows through.

What was once a clear stream is now a muddy mess. Where once a downstream landowner’s Charolais cows drank from the stream, the cows now wade through the mud to get to a neighbor’s pond. The neighbor granted permission for the cows to have access to the pond.

The DNR person walked along the creek and verified the pollution. The only place the muddy sediment could have come from was the dirt work done by Emory Sapp and Sons (ESS) with a contract with MidwayUSA. That has been confirmed by over 400 landowners in the area.

So, given that the stream is polluted, the area of the pollution is known and the polluter has been identified, what does DNR do? What it did was ask the polluter what it intended to do to address the problem. A letter of warning was issued to ESS and gave the entity until Friday to respond with a plan of action to address what happened. That response was received, but it was sorely lacking in detail.

It is not known if DNR will take further action based on the nondetailed response. What had been done in such cases in the past was to issue a notice of violation, with commensurate fines or penalties. Now, however, the polluter is off the hook when a plan to address the pollution is received by DNR within a specified time frame. I hasten to add that a violation notice also specified that a plan of action be submitted.

The somewhat checkered past of DNR is not all that good. The agency has a record of looking the other way when an entity is accused of pollution by many people, particularly if that entity has some political connections. One needs to look no further than an incident at the Lake of the Ozarks, where it was verified that over 25% of entities dumped waste into the lake, in spite of DNR rules against such. This led to a state investigation ordered by then-Gov. Jay Nixon.

There are many other such instances when DNR took no action. I was personally involved in some of these, and usually all it took was a phone call to the legislator who was applying pressure to DNR to “back off.”

While it is fully appreciated that DNR is a state agency and therefore must be answerable to state legislators, it must also be recognized that the department serves more than four million citizens of this state. This is, by the way, not limited to pressure from Republican legislators. The cases where I was involved, as director of the state Sierra Club, were bipartisan. It seemed to matter little whether the legislator was Republican or Democrat. The excuse was usually that DNR was acting against “my constituents.” Those constituents were usually a polluting company, rather than those affected by the pollution.

That is apparently not the case with the pollution pouring from the newly rezoned MidwayUSA site.

There is no evidence that any politicians were involved in the DNR leniency. Nope, what was once blamed on political pressure is now just standard operating procedure.

What I have not addressed is the accusation of the 400 area landowners that some sort of shenanigans involving money had to do with the votes to rezone by County Commissioners Dan Atwill and Fred Parry. They voted to rezone in spite of a 6-1 “No” vote by the Boone County Planning & Zoning Commission, a petition by more than 400 landowners and public hearing testimony by some of those 400 people.

Maybe someday, the truth will out as to why Commissioners Atwill and Parry voted for rezoning and why DNR issued only a letter of warning.

Don’t hold your breath.

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