JEFFERSON CITY – January 25 Congressman Jason Smith (MO-08) testified in front of the Missouri House of Representatives Committee on Conservation and Natural Resources about Governor Nixon’s and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) disputed acquisition of land in Oregon County. As a result of few details, no clear plan, and a lack of transparency from the State for the land purchased in Oregon County, Representative Smith was there to express his support for legislation authored by Representative Robert Ross and Representative Jay Barnes which would require the Department of Natural Resources to sell off the recent land acquisition.
The Oregon County land acquisition was done as part of the Strategic Restoration Implementation Plan in which the State received damages from mining metal contamination to restore natural resources in impacted areas. One major problem is that the purchase of over 4,000 acres for a proposed state park in Oregon County is over 100 miles from the impacted area – the counties effected in the lawsuit in which the State was awarded the funds to purchase the land are nowhere near Oregon County.
Postings about the proposed land purchase were in the 500,000 plus page federal register or on the DNR website. Smith is concerned very few of those in the impacted areas actually use either of those sources to get information about their community. During his testimony, Representative Smith expressed concern with the overall lack of openness and transparency in which the DNR selected the restoration site, made that information public and solicited public feedback.
Afterwards, Smith continued to express frustration, “To not even hold a public hearing in the area where thousands of acres of land was purchased simply flies in the face of trying to claim this process was open and transparent. I’m used to being disappointed with federal bureaucrats in Washington failing to disclose appropriate information to the American public, but in this instance it was the state government that flat out failed in its obligation to the taxpayers of Missouri to go above and beyond in its efforts to be honest with this land purchase.”
According to the DNR, 10 primitive camp sites are planned on the new park.
Congressman Smith said, “I went to see the property last week, its thousands of acres of rolling farm land with cattle grazing on it, so it begs to question how this will ever be a national forest area or a place with primitive campsites on it. I would also have to question why the State would plan to spend millions of dollars creating a forest where there isn’t one.”
Smith continued, “Where is the plan, where is the transparency the citizens of Missouri and residents of Oregon County are entitled? With the information I have now, I can tell you that the State purchased the wrong piece of land. This land was purchased by a bunch of executive and state level bureaucrats. There was no input from the state senators, state representatives, town members or taxpayers.”
On numerous occasions Congressman Smith has asked Governor Nixon’s administration for additional details on the transfer of these private lands. Smith has previously called the transfer “a clear misuse of funds”. Stating that “Misusing these funds is a violation of the settlement agreement and the public trust”.
In October the Congressman sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, and Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Sara Parker Pauley, outlining his numerous concerns.