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'Liaison' hired for ASARCO projects

St. Francois County Commissioner Patrick Mullins, left, discusses with Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher and Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, reasons why he believes the county should hire Michael Alesandrini to be its "eyes" and "ears" at meetings held regarding ASARCO settlement projects.

The St. Francois County Commission has hired Michael Alesandrini and his company, Leverage Management Solutions (LMS), to provide liaison and advisory services to the commission related to state and federal agency administration of natural resource damages, including policy development and funding decisions, affecting the county.

Prior to starting his new business, Alesandrini was a senior consultant for URS Corporation. In 2011, Jefferson, St. Francois and Washington County officials joined forces to discuss lead and other contaminants affecting the Big River Watershed with state and federal regulatory agencies. The three counties signed an agreement with URS Corporation to develop a master plan for the approximately 92-mile stretch of the watershed that runs from Leadwood to near Eureka, where the Big and Meramec rivers meet.

At a recent county commission's meeting, Commissioner Patrick Mullins explained that he had received the proposal to provide the county liaison and advisory services from Alesandrini.

“This will be related to on-going state and federal agency discussions specific to the use of funds remaining in the trust created to support the restoration of natural resources damaged as a result of the historic mining activities in the region,” he said. “Various discussions and deliberations are underway that will inform state and federal policy decisions related to when, where and how limited natural resource damages financial resources may be expended throughout southeast Missouri.”

Mullins explained that much of those limited financial resources are associated with environmental damages specific to St. Francois County.

“In other words, we have an abundance of mine waste,” he said. “You remember the old chat piles — Leadwood, Flat River, Park Hills, Bonne Terre. There are recent examples of significant sums being spent outside of this county without direct benefit to the citizens of the county.

“The most alarming would be the current discussions related to further expenditures of substantial portions of the remainder of those resources — again, outside of St. Francois County. One of the perfect examples that you’ll recall was last year and the Oregon County purchase. You can see what kind of fiasco that was. The citizens of this county didn’t benefit from those funds being diverted to the park.

“And it’s ironic because all of the citizens in that area and all three commissioners are against that proposal. We’ve been down that road before. So, LMS — Michael Alesandrini — can serve as a liaison in agency discussions where St. Francois County officials wouldn’t be present. LMS will be available on an advisory capacity to the county commission to contemplate the form of content of such direct input into any deliberations.”

Mullins noted that most of the industrialized mining operations that served as the basis for the litigation that culminated in millions of dollars in settlement proceeds happened in and around St. Francois County.

“A natural resource damages assessment has been conducted in the region in late 2009 as part of the bankruptcy settlement related to former smelting operations by ASARCO,” he said. “Tens of millions of dollars were awarded for damages incurred. The EPA has used and is using part of that settlement for remediation efforts throughout the region. A group of trustees — U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Missouri DNR, U.S. Forest Service, the Conservation Department — they have utilized a part of the settlement proceeds for work provided for in the SEMO restoration plan — and, again, including the purchase of a park in Oregon County.”

Mullins explained that there is a feasibility study being performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with a number of other agencies involved, for construction projects that are being contemplated in the Big River Watershed.

“But they are to be situated in Jefferson County,” he said. “Local, state and federal elected officials are in the process of trying to extend the mandated service area for this study that will include counties upstream from Jefferson County up to Big River. So, that effort requiring congressional approval is unlikely to be accomplished with the timeline in which those construction projects are planned and funded. Prevailing agency discussions suggest that those construction projects are likely to be funded with the remaining settlement proceeds regardless of the extension of the Corps services area into St. Francois County. That’s why I’d like to bring on a professional.”

Mullins read off the number of times that Alesandrini had addressed the commissioners to inform them of projects under consideration or approved at meetings regarding use of the settlement money. At the conclusion of the listing, he said, “In August of 2015, he attended the meeting held down at Johnson’s Shut-Ins and this dealt with the public discussion on moneys being diverted for the Oregon County park. It was after that in September that Mr. Alesandrini addressed this commission about those concerns that we wouldn’t have known about. In May of 2016, he addressed the commission again about ideas for restoration projects.

Mullins told the commissioners that before the previous presiding commissioner — Dr. David Cramp — left office, a Big River Watershed line item of $5,000 was placed in the county budget.

“With help from our auditor, Mr. Seiberlich, I think it’s a fair deal to look at bringing Leverage on board,” he said. “We would pay him in the amount of $2,500 — $1,250 upfront and then $1,250 at the end of the year. I talked with Mr. Alesandrini and I think it’s very fair considering his past work. Most importantly, at the end of this year we can look and we can say, ‘You know, we want to keep you on for another year at the same rate.’ Or, option two, ‘We want to keep you on and give you an increase.’ Or — the third option — ‘Michael, you’ve done us a great job, but we’re not going to renew your contract.’”

As part of the agreement, Alesandrini will address the commission on a quarterly basis and keep Mullins informed of any information he receives and there will be no mileage paid.

Following the unanimous vote, Alesandrini said, “The nature of my business is to attend a lot of meetings that DNR is already in and they tend to invite me to meetings that involve Big River issues and the natural resource damage issues in southeast Missouri. That’s what really prompted this discussion with the commission.

“It’s the role I’ve been playing just as a private citizen and informed stakeholder in those conversations pretty much dating back to 2009. In the last couple of months I was involved in meetings where the future of the funding and a lot of policies were being discussed that had potential impact on this county and there was nobody in the room voicing concern for the county. I did, but I was only doing it as a citizen and it seemed appropriate to formalize a little bit of standing so I could assert the interests of the county in a little more formal standing than just saying, ‘I live here.’”

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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