December 14, 2006

Water, Waste, CAFOs Top List Of Concerns Voiced During DNR Director’s Stop in Memphis

While it was apparently open season on the Department of Natural Resources at several of the 13 stops made by director Doyle Childers during a two-day tour of northeast Missouri, that was not the case in Memphis on December 7th as the DNR leader met with Scotland County officials.

Childers met with representatives of the city, county, rural water and NRCS offices in the conference room of the regional planning commission office.

The DNR director told those in attendance that his office was working to implement three directives from the governor including making the permitting process easier, with less paperwork. He said that it is necessary because of dwindling staff for the DNR but also to make the process more user-friendly.

The director stated that DNR has seen the number of permits handled by its employees increase from 22,000 to 30,000 annually while the staff has decreased by 225 workers in the past five years.

“It’s pretty simple that when you have more work and less people to do it, that we need to improve the process,” Childers stated. He noted that automation and the Internet are helping make the application process easier for all involved.

In June DNR unveiled an automated permit assistance computer program that assists patrons in determining which permits are required and also aids in completing the applications.

Childers said the governor also directed him to make the DNR more of a partnership with the residents of the state, working more toward solving problems instead of simply enforcing laws. That coincides with the third directive for a greater role in preventing problems with the state’s natural resources instead of simply being reactive and cleaning up after problems are discovered.

Childers reported performing 188 inspections in November and December as part of this plan. The results found less than 55 percent of the sites in compliance with DNR regulations.

“That was a wake-up call for us, when you have nearly half the test sites that aren’t following the rules,” Childers stated. “But they were all brought into compliance without any violations being issued. We took the role of aiding to bring these sites into compliance as opposed to a ‘gotcha’ attitude.”

The director stated this sample project helped show the state that DNR wants to work with the public and hopes to catch problems early in the process.

RPC Director Dave Shoush said he was pleasantly surprised by the change in the DNR philosophy adding that the Macon office is very good to work with.

“It really seems like it has transitioned from ‘my way or the highway’ to ‘how can I help you’,” said Presiding Commissioner Mike Stephenson who agreed with comments made by Shoush. “DNR has gone from a boss to a potential partner that has shown ample desire to work with us.”

Childers also addressed water quality and regulations pointing out this region is in far better shape than other parts of the state. He noted that recent studies have shown that just eight of the 84 water systems in northwest Missouri have been deemed to offer adequate water supplies for the future.

Alderman Chris Feeney asked if DNR supported the economy of size model that seemed to have many water suppliers abandoning smaller sources to join together in larger treatment and distribution facilities.

Childers agreed that the cost of testing was becoming a problem for smaller plants and added that his department is investigating ways to help smaller water suppliers fund the costs of increasing government regulation.

The director also discussed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and the role DNR plays in the application process. He indicated that the department is willing to work with the Missouri Association of Counties to help streamline the permit process.

Shoush told Childers that additional funding is needed for the solid waste management districts. The RPC director said for the first time in 10 years Scotland County likely would not be able to offer a waste tire pick up because of declining funding.

Childers stated that meetings like this generated feedback on such topics that helped DNR reps address problems. He noted that the county had expressed a willingness to share in some of the costs and added that cooperative efforts like that fueled the department’s desire to help find funding to continue such worthy projects.

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