- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Springfield News Leader, Aug. 22

Laws protect rivers, floaters and the recreation experience for all to enjoy

This time of year, the Niangua River near Bennett Spring is practically paddle-to-paddle with kayaks, canoes and tubes as a cross-section of floaters seek a day of summer fun.

A crowded river is one thing. It’s quite another when some mistreat the natural resource by breaking laws, dumping litter and behaving in a way that puts themselves in danger and infringes on the enjoyment of others. That leads to increased scrutiny, including the Aug. 8 “saturation enforcement,” a bigger-than-usual effort by Missouri Marine Operation troopers and conservation agents to discourage water law violations.

Many appreciate the effort to help preserve the river and create a better environment that everyone can enjoy. One commenter on a News-Leader story about the effort said the Niangua is getting “ridiculous,” with littering out of control. “I don’t think I would take a young child there on a weekend anymore,” she added. “People have no respect.”

Others say enforcement efforts are harassment. But if you knowingly break laws, you understand the risks, right? So you really can’t complain when laws are being enforced.

Instead of complaining, try complying.

Here’s the thing: If laws don’t make sense, they should be changed. But laws against littering and for keeping people safe around water do make sense. If you don’t want saturation enforcements to occur, secure your coolers, don’t litter, and leave Styrofoam, glass and illegal substances at home.

Saturation enforcements, which are announced ahead of time, are planned for impact. In the News-Leader story, Cpl. John Lueckenhoff with the Missouri State Highway Patrol said they “want to heighten awareness about safe behavior on the river” and show the public that officials “aren’t turning a blind eye” to it. Sgt. Jason Pace said they target areas where they see injuries, deaths and behavior complaints. “Our goal is to improve safety on our rivers and waterways and deter illegal activity and unruly behavior.” Of 187 Niangua floaters who were directed to shore on Aug. 8, three were jailed, 83 were issued warnings and 33 were cited for various infractions.

Have fun but be respectful of other floaters so everyone can enjoy the day. That’s the biggest complaint by families and those who seek a peaceful river experience. When it comes to rowdy groups, “sometimes they come out to have a good time and don’t worry if they are impacting someone else’s good time or not,” said Greg Fritz, protection regional supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation, whose agents patrol state rivers. “It’s a fine line to keep everybody safe and make it enjoyable for everybody,” he said.

Activities such as drug use, underage drinking and high levels of public intoxication are not only illegal, on a river those are safety issues, too. During the Aug. 8 enforcement, Fritz said, pulling at least one intoxicated individual off the river likely saved his life.

On the subject of safety laws, here’s another you should never violate: If you’re getting out on the river, be sure to pack - or better, wear - a personal flotation device. It could save your life.

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St Joseph News Press, Aug. 29

Justice served in EPA ruling

The federal Environmental Protection Agency oversteps its authority when it pursues a revised clean water rule that would trample on the rights of farmers and other private landowners.

This has been the contention of opponents for months, and now they have a powerful ally.

Judge Ralph Erikson of the U.S. District Court of North Dakota held in an 18-page opinion last week the EPA likely has gone too far with requirements that would bring millions of acres of private land under federal regulatory control for the first time.

Strict enforcement of the new standards would require federal permits for discharges into the affected waters and could restrict access altogether, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Judge Erikson temporarily stopped the rule from taking effect Friday in 13 states, including Missouri, while the court case continues. But the EPA plans to proceed with enforcement in other states, including Kansas. This is an affront to all of the affected landowners who believe a federal judge’s opinion ought to stand for something.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, is part of a bipartisan group of officials who have been fighting to block this new rule defining “waters of the United States.” In a statement, Mr. Koster noted the new rule:

- Extends the authority of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers “far beyond what a reasonable person considers to be a waterway.”

- Defines tributaries to include ponds, streams that flow only briefly during or after rainstorms, and channels that are usually dry.

- Extends to lands within a 100-year floodplain - “even if they are dry 99 out of 100 years.”

Judge Erikson says it “appears likely” the complaining landowners and states will win their argument contending the regulation seeks to regulate streams and ditches not material to the navigable waters where federal authorities have jurisdiction.

This opinion from a judge who has looked at the law confirms what most people on the receiving end of this rule think. The fact the EPA is unrepentant in seeking to enforce it anyway is another mark against an agency that too often is out of step with the American public.

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Southeast Missourian, Aug. 31

Mayors working to improve lines of communication

More than a decade ago, former mayors Jay Knudtson of Cape Girardeau and Jackson’s Paul Sander made a concentrated effort to break down parochial walls and work together.

Jackson and Cape Girardeau, whose borders meet at Interstate 55 where East Jackson Boulevard meets Kingshighway, are sibling towns. And like siblings, each town has its own personality. But in the end, each wants the other to succeed.

Knudtson and Sander began holding joint city council meetings, where representatives from both towns would come together to give updates and discuss projects or priorities of common interest.

For instance, it’s helpful for the region if both cities could have similar building codes. That makes it easier for contractors and builders. The cities worked together on adopting similar codes. The cities built connections for water backups in case of emergencies. Both cities had an interest in the new interchange at East Main Street and LaSalle Avenue.

Over time, those relationships cooled. The cities were not necessarily at odds with one another, but the spirit of cooperation waned.

But that seems to be turning around again.

Dwain Hahs, Jackson’s newly-elected mayor, has made it a priority to build relationships and communications with Cape Girardeau leaders.

“For me, even when I was running for mayor, one of my main platforms that I was running on was a better relationship with the area and regional groups,” Hahs said. “Building trust and cooperating and working together — there’s a lot we can do as a region.”

Since Hahs’ election, city leadership from both towns have coordinated a number of events, as reported by Samantha Rinehart in a recent story in the Southeast Missourian.

City staff from Cape Girardeau and Jackson get together once a month to talk about what’s happening in their areas.

The bottom line is that Cape Girardeau and Jackson both benefit from each other. A culture of support rather than opposition or indifference will yield benefits in a number of ways.

We’re encouraged the mayors of both towns are meeting regularly and finding common ground — beyond that at Center Junction.

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Kansas City Star, Aug. 28

Regional public transit is rolling smartly ahead

The dream of a regionally funded, seamlessly connected public transit system hasn’t come true yet for tens of thousands of people who use buses - and soon streetcars - in the Kansas City area.

But major transit operators are taking positive steps toward a more effective way of moving passengers around, even across the state line.

This week the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority unveiled some of its newly painted buses - blue ones will carry people on regular routes and red ones will travel along the Troost and Main MAX routes.

Buses running regular routes for The Jo, Johnson County’s bus provider, eventually will be painted blue, too, as will buses for IndeBus in Independence and UG Transit in Wyandotte County.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority recently announced a partnership with the ATA and the city, all to help support a “world-class regional transit system,” as Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend said. The 2.2-mile system is expected to open in 2016, connecting with many bus lines.

All of these agencies will share the same new branding: RideKC. And the website RideKC.org, not yet fully operational, will soon serve passengers of all the systems.

In another positive move, passengers already can buy a $3 pass that allows them to use the buses for a single day.

Supporters also know they need to make the systems link better to one another, as they help move people in the urban core to jobs in suburban areas, for example, as well as students to educational institutions.

Finally, perhaps most important for long-term success, crafting a regional tax or system of fees to support public transit must be a priority at some point.

Think that won’t happen? Check out just one of the recent major shifts in the world of regional transit.

Three years ago, Johnson County officials were looking at making deep budget cuts to The Jo. County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert was adamant that a regional bus system was not in the cards. “We would not give up funding or operational control” to the ATA, he said.

Yet in late 2014, Eilert and the commission approved turning over management of The Jo to the ATA. The move eliminated county jobs and should save up to $500,000 a year. “I think it offers excellent possibilities, not only for Johnson County but the metropolitan area,” Eilert said, adding that renewed trust in the ATA was one factor.

Eilert this month received the ATA’s annual “Regional Excellence Award.”

These encouraging steps also were made possible after the departure of longtime ATA general manager Mark Huffer last summer, and the hiring of former Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon as ATA president in early 2015.

ATA Chairman Robbie Makinen, another tireless worker for this cause, said Reardon was “uniquely qualified to advance the new vision of the ATA, which is to create an integrated transportation system and for the ATA to become the regional transit authority it was meant to be.”

Those are tall marching orders. They will take time to accomplish. But strong and effective voices on behalf of drastically improved transit are now in place.

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