JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri House on Wednesday voted to force the state to sell a planned state park on the Eleven Point River in southern Missouri.
Missouri lawmakers, still peeved that former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, engineered the purchase of the roughly 4,000 acres, said Wednesday the Oregon County land should be sold to a private buyer.
Critics of the state's acquisition have long complained that some settlement money with lead mining companies went toward the purchase of a park instead of areas affected by lead mining.
"I have to tell you how upsetting this is," said Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville. "These monies were misappropriated."
Defenders of the planned park said its purchase was within the bounds of the settlement reached with the former ASARCO company.
"The use of the funds to buy the state park was completely legal," said Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia. Certain land where lead was mined, Kendrick said, is "not ever going to be restored to its original value, original purpose. You can use ASARCO funds to buy other property ... that is similar to land that is not ever going to be completely restored."
The Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday it had no plans to sell the property and that a lawsuit challenging the legality of the land's purchase is pending in court.
In late 2017, Missouri State Parks, which the DNR oversees, suggested the sale of four controversial acquisitions was an option, but park leaders walked that suggestion back following a public comment period.
“At the present time selling any of the four is not being considered,” Ben Ellis, director of Missouri State Parks, said last January.
But, Missouri has not opened any of the four parks in question, citing a lack of resources and a maintenance backlog at existing parks.
The state is also considering accepting the donation of a former rail line that would act as a 144-mile bike trail, but officials are concerned about the cost of maintaining the park.
The legislation is House Committee Bill 1.