Sen. Gary Romine’s Capitol Update: Finding a Legislative Solution to ASARCO

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The Missouri Senate just concluded its second full week of session. What in the past have seemed like a gradual ramping up of legislative activity, these first couple weeks of session have been characterized by a desire to take on critical issues right out of the gate. We have already conducted hearings on bills that aim to strengthen our state laws governing abortions and provide adequate funding for Missouri’s transportation system, through a measured motor fuel tax increase. By all indications 2016 is going to be a busy session.

As your voice in the state Senate, much of my time will be focused on finding a legislative solution to the governor’s decision to misuse funds from the ASARCO settlement. It is an incredibly important issue to the citizens and local economies I represent, and it is my goal to see that a timely resolution is reached.

Although many of you are already well-acquainted with ASARCO, I’d like to provide a little background information for those who may not be as familiar. ASARCO stands for the American Smelting and Refining Company. For several years, ASARCO operated a plant in Leadwood, Missouri. Then, in 2005, the company filed the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history. In 2007, they agreed to pay a settlement of approximately $32 million for environmental damages, which was to be divided among five sites in southeast Missouri’s lead mining district. The money was specifically set aside to be used for restoration and land acquisition in these affected areas. Unfortunately, that is not what has transpired.

The settlement fund is controlled by the Missouri Trustee Council, which is comprised of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Before the council can spend any of the settlement money, a plan must first be presented at a public hearing. To start with, the trustees never notified the public that the settlement funds were available for use. Consequently, many of the folks in our area were unaware they could submit their project applications.

Then, on Sept. 2, after insufficient notification, the council held a “public” hearing at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, where they presented their plan to use a significant amount of the settlement funds to purchase the 2,463-acre Frederick Creek Ranch in Oregon County and turn it into a state park. The plan doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider this: Oregon County is located over 100 miles away from the Lead Belt and has never been affected by mining activities.

Despite strong opposition from government officials at all levels (including the Oregon County Commission, which doesn’t want to lose even more of its tax base), the governor still chose to ignore the will of the people and move the operation forward. I cannot begin to express my level of anger and frustration with what has occurred. Not only have the trustees and the governor robbed our communities of a significant portion of the settlement fund, they have done so while deliberately attempting to keep the public in the dark. Nothing about this process has been above board, and that is where much of my frustration, and the frustration of my constituents, originated.

To help prevent another ASARCO situation from occurring in the future and promote greater transparency within the process, I have signed on as a co-sponsor to Senate Bill 682. Under SB 682, when the Commissioner of Administration seeks to purchase land on behalf of any state department, the department will be required to provide public notice on its website and in certain newspapers, and hold public hearings in affected counties.

As for the purchase of the Frederick Creek Ranch in Oregon County, legislation has already been filed in the House that would require the DNR to sell the land at public auction as soon as it takes possession and the money returned to be used in the affected area. A similar measure should be filed in the Senate within the coming days. Utilizing the Lead Industry Task Force to bring the trustees’ decision-making process to light is another option on the table.

Mining in Missouri’s Lead Belt has contributed to the economic growth and prosperity of our state for centuries; all of that success, however, came at a price. As opportunities arise to address the environmental damage caused by years of mining activity, it is essential to the future health of our citizens and communities that we’re able to take advantage of them. There are plenty of worthy projects in the vicinity of the damaged area that would benefit from the ASARCO settlement funds and which we still hope to see approved, including “Bone Hole” in St. Francois County, Pilot Knob and the Fredericktown City Lake, which is the only water supply for 4,000 Missourians.

Passing legislation to correct the governor’s misguided decision is at the top of my to-do list this session. The men, women and children who call southeast Missouri’s lead mining district home — the citizens I represent — deserve better from their state. I hope the governor wakes up and realizes, sooner rather than later, that he needs to make a sincere effort to work with us going forward.

Finally, I was happy to welcome a number of individuals from the 3rd Senate District to my office in Jefferson City this week, including Dr. Ray Cummiskey, President of Jefferson College and Dr. Steve Kurtz, President of Mineral Area College; and County Assessors Dan Ward, St. Francois; David Huff, Iron; Linda Wagner, Ste. Genevieve; Rick Parker, Reynolds; Summer Crider, Shannon; and Bob Adams, Cape Girardeau.

Contact Me

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4008. You may write me at Gary Romine, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101; or email me at; or