Missouri To Return $575 Park Money To Federal Government

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources plans to give $575,000 originally earmarked for two new state parks back to the federal government.

The money intended for Jay Nixon State Park and Eleven Point State Park is now going back to the U.S Department of Interior, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Representatives with the Missouri Sierra Club have questioned why the state agency would return the money when Missouri State Parks is already struggling to find funding for maintenance projects.

"The restoration money was meant to repay Missourians for natural resources that were lost due to contamination," said Jennifer Johnson Conner, the state Sierra Club's Ozarks Conservation Program coordinator. "However, no public input was solicited when DNR, a public agency, made the reckless decision to return the public's money."

The money came from a nearly $1.8 billion lead mine bankruptcy and cleanup settlement involving 11 states, including Missouri. Part of Missouri's settlement money went toward buying the two parks in 2016 and doing ecological restoration and management at both sites.

The state agency believes the money should have been used to more directly clean up lead mine sites in eastern Missouri, said spokeswoman Connie Patterson.

"We believe it is the right thing to do to return these unused Natural Resource Damage funds to the ASARCO Trustees to be used for projects with a greater nexus to the original areas that were harmed," she said this week.

The agency plans to use its own budget to make up for the $575,000 loss in federal funds it intends to return.

But Missouri State Parks still currently faces $200 million in maintenance needs at its more than 90 parks.

"Something doesn't add up," Johnson Conner said. "Missourians, who voted in an overwhelming 80 percent majority to support state parks, are suffering from DNR's lack of transparency and consideration of the public they serve."

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