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Amended West Lake Landfill buyout bill moves forward in House

Chappelle-Nadal voices concerns of changes on Senate floor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After the House approved and passed conference substitutes for the state’s budget bills, the Budget Committee held an executive session before going home for the weekend on Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal’s SB 22, which would allow the buyout of homes near the West Lake Landfill.

It created several new wrinkles in a piece of legislation championed by one of the Senate’s most vocal members, setting up a potentially new player in the final week of the regular session next week.

The West Lake Landfill, an EPA Superfund site, contains byproducts from early nuclear material enrichment, and some residents fear the radioactivity has already taken a toll on the community and could continue to do so as the EPA has not taken action to clean the site in nearly two decades. Chappelle-Nadal has taken a lead role in this issue in her district, and often speaks on the floor about the effects the contamination has allegedly had on residents living near the site.

The funds going towards Chappelle-Nadal’s project have withered away during the budget process. Her initial version of the Hazardous Waste Home Acquisition Program called for $12.5 million for buyouts in Spanish Lake. Then, that number fell to a $3 million line item in the budget. After conference, it turned into just $1 million.

While the Senate deliberated over the HB 6 – the Department of Natural Resources budget bill that contains the West Lake line item, Chappelle-Nadal spoke for roughly half an hour, visibly upset.

“In this particular case, we’re picking and choosing who lives and who dies,” she said,

House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick acknowledged Chappelle-Nadal had worked passionately on the issue, but in a year where $500 million had been cut from the budget and pennies were pinched, getting anything for a new line item was a win in itself.

“But at the end of the day, I’m hoping she can be happy,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s hard for me to understand how somebody can be upset that their unprecedented appropriation is not big enough. We’ve never really done anything like it before.”

Later in the evening, she seemed more accepting that she had secured $1 million in the budget for the buyouts.

“At least I got started with something,” she said.

However, the executive session of the Budget Committee potentially throws another wrench into the fight over the legislation. Various representatives offered several amendments, with most of them failing to make it onto the bill.

Initially, that was the fate of Rep. Robert Ross’ amendment to add funding to the project with the sale of land in Oregon County obtained with ASARCO funds by the Nixon administration. The measure would keep the $1 million appropriation and give $15 million to a designated fund, but it would also tie the funding to the sale of that land.

Rep. Robert Ross
Rep. Robert Ross

Rep. Kip Kendrick voiced he was not sure if Ross’ amendment was even legal. Ed Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment echoed that sentiment, saying it would basically give the legislature free reign to determine where to send funds from a given settlement. He argued the Nixon administration had done things by the book.

“Clearly, the governor went through a process that was determined to be legal when he used the ASARCO money or Rep. Ross would have pursued a legal route in challenging that land purchase,” Smith said.

A House committee substitute would also remove the geographical restrictions on the bill, meaning they could be used for any contaminated site.

Ross’ amendment initially failed 16-16, but it eventually became apparent the bill as a whole would fail from a lack of support if the amendment was not added, while the Senate was still debating. During that time, Chappelle-Nadal possibly could have filibustered the budget.

Ross’ amendment eventually passed, and the bill passed out of committee. However, Chappelle-Nadal was not pleased, and she quoted the same material Sen. Rob Schaaf quoted on the Senate floor a few weeks prior: Rorschach’s famous line from Watchmen.

“Earlier today, the representative from Texas County tied my funding in HB 6 from an issue in his district to an issue in my district,” she said on the floor. “I’m here to tell that representative one thing… he may think I’m locked in here with him, he is locked in here with me. And it may not be friendly.”

However, Ross says Chappelle-Nadal should be thankful as her bill likely would have died without his addition. The bill will have to make it through fiscal review with a -$12.7 million fiscal note, but Ross contends it will now have a positive fiscal note, or at least one that breaks even.

In addition, it wouldn’t have gotten the votes needed in committee to pass.

“SB 22 was going to fail without my amendment on there,” Ross said.

Ross added that he was optimistic Chappelle-Nadal and he would be on more common ground when the two of them spoke in person.

“$1 million isn’t going to go far enough,” Ross said. “My amendment clears the field for that and puts a significant amount of money at her disposal for her purpose that in my opinion was misused at the beginning by former Gov. Jay Nixon.”

Chappelle-Nadal was not available for comment Friday.