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Some lawmakers want tighter check on lands

March 10, 1999
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 133

JEFFERSON CITY - To protect the state's mining industry, the some Missouri lawmakers want to require the federal government to get state approval before acquiring land within its borders.

The bill, which has passed committee and awaits debate in the House, is limited to acquisitions for recreation, reforestation, or agriculture.

"I'm concerned about preserving mining interests in my district," said bill sponsor Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi. "The federal government usually prohibits those activities on their lands."

Doe Run Company owns all eight of Missouri's lead mines. Spokesman Walter Nowotny said the state's lead mining industry is in danger.

"In an estimated 10 or 20 years, our existing mines will run out of ore," Nowotny said. "Without exploration for new sources of ore, we could see the end of lead mining in Missouri." Nowotny believes significant lead ore exists in a part of the state, much of which is federal land.

Federal regulations have hindered Doe Run's efforts to find new sources. After a long struggle, the company last year withdrew efforts to gain permits to search for lead ore in the Ozark National Scenic Riverway.

Nowotny estimates 1400 or 1500 jobs could be lost if their southeast Missouri mining operations cease.

Jay Truitt, spokesman for the Missouri Cattleman's Association, said the federal purchases inflates land prices.

"The feds come in and bid on land, jacking up the prices," Truitt said. "The price goes up to the point that it could no longer be profitable for livestock or agriculture."

Environmental groups oppose the legislation.

"Federal ownership of land promotes conservation, recreation, and water quality," said Roy Hengerson, spokesman for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

He said the bill would be a "bureaucratic nightmare" for the legislature who would be burdened with routine federal purchases such as boundary adjustments, purchases where the federal government buys privately-held land within areas it control, such as the Mark Twain National Forest or The Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge.

Crump denied the proposal will cause gridlock. He said the proposal's procedures are the same that the state government undergoes when it buys land.

Federal land ownership is major controversy out West, where some states are virtually dominated by federal lands. In Missouri, some counties say they are in the same position.

"Between the state and the federal government, they own most of our county," said Washington County Presiding Commissioner Robert Simpson. "We survive on mining and timber in our county."