- Associated Press - Monday, January 25, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Jason Smith on Monday said the state Department of Natural Resources didn’t seek enough public input on its plans to build a new state park in southeastern Missouri.

The Missouri Republican spoke in favor of two state House bills that would require the DNR in a public auction to sell land in Oregon County purchased with money from a lead settlement.

The American Smelting and Refining Company, or ASARCO, agreed to pay the state $61 million for damage caused by mining. The DNR’s plan to build a state park with some of the money led to criticism from elected officials, like Smith, and residents who say more of the settlement should be spent in areas directed damaged by lead mining.

Smith said there were no public hearings on the plan in Oregon County, and he said the public hearings that were held on the issue were not adequately advertised.

“That in itself is an injustice,” Smith told lawmakers at the committee hearing. “We should always make sure that we have government as open as possible for the taxpayer.”

Rep. Robert Ross, who is sponsoring one of the two House bills reviewed on Monday, said state-owned land means less tax money for the area and that the land won’t be put to a productive economic use.

Carolyn Amparan, chairwoman of a local Sierra Club chapter, opposes the bill. She said while the group wants to see polluted areas cleaned up, there’s still money available to use to buy land not directly associated with the mining damage.

Amparan also said a new state park could spur economic growth due to tourism.

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.

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