- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon this week called on a state agency to use settlement funds to restore areas of southeastern Missouri that were damaged by lead contamination, a move praised by local officials and state lawmakers who for months questioned why money was going to projects in places untouched by lead.

Nixon directed the Department of Natural Resources, which is part of a council responsible for doling out $61 million in compensation for damage caused by lead mining, to identify projects in “the Bone Hole” in St. Francois County, the Fredericktown City Lake area, and the Little St. Francis River Pile. The Democratic governor recently visited the areas.

Nixon wants the department to “take whatever steps necessary to complete restoration projects in these areas.”

“My administration is committed to moving forward on restoration projects that will benefit the people and communities of southeast Missouri,” Nixon said in a statement. “I appreciate the work of local leaders and citizens to bring attention to this important issue, and I am directing the Department of Natural Resources to identify and expedite efforts to restore land damaged by our nation’s legacy of lead.”

The money comes from the American Smelting and Refining Company, or Asarco. The company in 2009 agreed to pay the state a settlement for damage to land, water and wildlife resources caused by lead mining.

Agency officials say the settlement money can be used to offset damage by protecting wilderness elsewhere, as well as to clean up contamination. And the state is waiting in some areas for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finish the first phase of cleanups.

A plan to use some of the settlement money to buy 2,500 acres for a state park in Oregon County drew criticism from residents and lawmakers who questioned the fairness of spending money in areas undamaged by lead mining.

Republican Reps. Linda Black, of Park Hills, and Jay Barnes, of Jefferson City, said Nixon’s response is a step in the right direction.

“That’s all we asked,” Black said. She said she’s confident that this is a priority for Nixon.

Some county officials also touted the move.

“This is a positive step toward getting our needs met and our lead cleaned up, which has been ongoing for years and will continue to be ongoing for many years,” Madison County Presiding Commissioner Bob Mooney said.

Patrick Mullins, a St. Francois County commissioner, said he still wants a dollar amount outlining how much settlement money will go to local projects.

Barnes also called for all of the settlement money to be spent in areas directly impacted by lead mining.

“If Gov. Nixon actually believes what he’s said, then all of the money should be spent restoring land actually damaged by Asarco and no money should be diverted from those areas to build a new state park for his legacy,” Barnes said.

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