Panama Canal expansion could impact Missouri ports

MODOT officials say the widened canal will open more freight shipment opportunities to Missouri.

Franklin School construction proceeds as planned

The $10 million project is being constructed next to the old school. It will open for the 2012 school year.

Dino's Pizza damaged by fire

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department estimates $250,000 in damages, but the building is not a total loss.

Mississippi River Basin nitrate pollution remains high

Nitrates flowing from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico contribute to the formation of areas known as dead zones.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Southeast professor's artwork presented in New York

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - Sarah Riley, the Interim Chairperson of the Art Department at Southeast Missouri State University, was recently accepted to present work in the Viridian Art Gallery In New York City.

After being asked to present her work to the gallery in the Chelsea Art District in New York, Sarah Riley was accepted as an affiliate to the gallery along with 6 other artists.

Riley is currently exhibiting 4 of her works, which consist of watercolor paint, graphite, collage, and mixed media.

According to Riley, the themes that she portrays with her art mainly represent femininity and autobiographical moments from the artist’s life.

Sarah Riley is also the head of Printmaking at the Holland School for the Visual and Performing Arts, and teaches classes in figure drawing, two-dimensional design, watermedia, and printmaking. She has been teaching art for almost 30 years and has been an educator at Southeast since 1994.

Daniel Rohr, KRCU

Advancing Renewables in the Midwest conference held in Columbia

COLUMBIA, MO (KBIA) - Around 160 policy makers, business leaders and scholars came to Columbia for the sixth annual Advancing Renewables in the Midwest conference.

This annual one-day conference usually focuses on the use of wind, solar and biomass energy. But this year, conference leaders also sought out speakers who could describe the business side of renewable energy.

Frank Cunningham of Columbia’s Water and Light Department helped organize this year’s conference. He says they decided to focus on the economy after the topic resonated with participants last year.

“How can renewables help our economy? Because as everybody knows our economy has its problems, but in energy efficiency and renewables, there are jobs being developed, and there are new jobs out there in these markets, so we wanted to highlight some of those activities,” Cunningham said.

Speakers represented companies like Nordic WindPower, a wind turbine producer that is relocating to Kansas City, and Hubble Power Systems in Centralia, whose business making foundations for solar panels has created 60 jobs in the past year.

Doug Kirk, an engineer at Hubble, was part of a panel that discussed how companies are creating jobs in Missouri.

“Basically what we did was expand into a new market, expanded our customer base and just used the factory, the marketing and salespeople we already had and just chased a different customer base. And when we landed that business it was more than we could handle so we had to hire people,” Kirk said.

Other conference topics were how to attract renewable energy companies to Missouri, and measuring Missouri’s energy efficiency.

Lydia Mulvany, KBIA news

McCaskill and Blunt sound off on Libya

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill says she’s concerned about conditions in Libya.

While the Senator is awaiting briefings from military officials, she says it appears there has been a reversal over the last 24 hours.

The Democratic Senator says the U.S effort must have a clear timeline.

"And I am going to certainly push to hold the President to his word. That this will be limited in scope and limited in time. That this is not going to be a drawn out commitment of the United States military and that it will not involve ground troops," McCaskill said.

Meanwhile, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt says he is hopeful that the U.S’s limited efforts in Libya will be successful in ending Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule.

The Republican Senator says that the efforts come about four weeks too late.

Blunt says he would support the U.S arming rebels.

"I’m eager as a member of the intelligence committee to know a little more about the rebels than we know right now," Blunt said. "But I think if you put planes in the air, and you’re going to spend $500 million to keep those planes in the air to level the playing field, it doesn’t hurt to give some advantage to the playing field on the side you’re trying to help."

Blunt says President Barack Obama must give a clearer definition of what the goal in Libya is.

Julie Bierach, St. Louis Public Radio

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jesse James photo to be auctioned in Chicago

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - The only known signed photo of Jesse James, the notorious outlaw from Missouri, will go to auction next week in Chicago.

The photo shows James with slicked back hair and gazing away from the camera at an angle. It’s signed J.W. James.

Mary Williams with Leslie Hindman Auctioneers says she was skeptical until she saw the signature first-hand and noted its similarity to a letter James is said to have signed.

"It’s incredibly similar to an item being offered by History for Sale. It’s a two-page letter from Jesse James where he signs on the front with his full name, Jesse James, and on the back he sign J-W James like on our photograph, and the two are extremely similar," Williams said.

The photo is expected to sell at the auction next Tuesday for at least 20-thousand dollars.

But not everyone is sold on its authenticity.

Gary Chilcote, the director of the Jesse James Home Museum in St. Joseph, says the outlaw rarely signed anything.

Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio

Smoking ban opponents and proponents present their views at KRCU-League of Women Voters debate

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - There is only one thing about Cape Girardeau's proposed smoking band that is beyond debate: That it stirs strong emotions from each side.

KRCU and The League of Women Voters hosted an open debate on the proposed Cape Girardeau smoking ban ordinance Tuesday night.

Dale Humphries and Shelly Wood represented Citizen’s For A Smoke-Free Cape. Citing studies that show the dangers of second-hand smoke, they argues that this is not about a smoking ban. Rather, it is an issue of public health.

"Too often in the smoke-free debate it becomes about smoking versus non-smoking, when in reality the issue is public health, protecting citizens from a known hazard," Wood said.

Nancy Kennemore and Don Greenwood representing Stand Up Cape, What’s Next? feel this is about personal property rights and the rights of those who wish to engage in a legal activity.

"I’m not a smoker, I have never smoked cigarettes in my life, Greenwood said. "I don’t see this as a smoking issue at all, I see this strictly as a personal property issue. I think we’ve lost enough of our rights over the last few years because of government regulations and I think that is the main issue here."

Greenwood countered the issue of public health with a study by the US Department of Energy that found levels of secondhand smoke in restaurants caused little or no adverse health effects.

Matthew Caldwell, KRCU

MAC look at $8 million renovation project

PARK HILLS, MO (KRCU) - Mineral Area College hopes to generate $8 million for improvements that will allow them to renovate their Park Hills and Fredricktown campuses.

The funds will renovate student service facilities, improve the library of the Park Hills campus, and upgrade science labs at both campuses, according to Dr. Steven Kurtz, Mineral Area College president.

“We identified seven or eight different items, and once we realized that there was an opportunity for a no-tax increase, our trustees did a workshop. We identified these four as top priority,” Kurtz said.

To do so, on April 5, Mineral Area College will have a no-tax bond issue on the ballot for its voting district, the surrounding counties of Jefferson, St. Francis County, Washington County, Ste. Genevieve, Iron, Madison, and Perry.

If the bond is passed, the entire project will take two to two and a half years to complete, Kurtz said.

Rachel Weatherford, KRCU

House passes amendment to cut Governor's travel money

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - The Missouri House passed an amendment stripping the Governor's office of additional travel funds.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey has criticized the governor for charging his travel to other state agencies and supported the effort Tuesday to make more cuts to the governor's budget.

"We have got a pretty simple choice here," Silvey said. "Do we let the governor continue flying around excessively on a state plane or do we help kids in inner-city St. Louis who need a leg up?"

Democratic St. Louis City Representative Jamilah Nasheed offered the amendment which would take money from the governor's travel budget to a dropout prevention program in St. Louis.

Nasheed's amendment along with the rest of Missouri's budget passed.

The Governor's office said Nixon would give the proposals a fair review, as Nixon himself visited the St. Louis area.

Jordan Shapiro, Missouri Digital News

Nixon says he would embrace federal rail money

Missouri is one of a handful of states applying for some $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail projects that Florida rejected last month.

Governor Jay Nixon was in Kirkwood Tuesday to announce Missouri’s application for nearly one billion dollars in new funding.

In recent months rail projects have become politicized with many GOP lawmakers calling for states to refuse the funds.

For his part, Nixon, a Democrat, says he sees rail as a good investment for Missouri.

"From my chair I don’t look at this as a partisan issue, I mean dollars that weren’t available have been made available. And we have a very very small amount of state resources that we have to be put up, I mean 4.5 million dollars to potentially get a billion dollars," Nixon said.

Missouri’s application is earmarked for Amtrak’s St. Louis to Kansas City line.

The project would complement a high-speed project already underway between St. Louis and Chicago.

President Barack Obama has championed 53 billion dollars in high-speed projects to spur job growth across the country.

Adam Allington, St. Louis Public Radio

UMSL archeologists discover continental Europe's earliest-known written record

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - Archeologists from the University of Missouri-St. Louis have discovered continental Europe's earliest known written record. 

The clay tablet fragment may date back to as early as 1490 B.C. -- more than a hundred-and-fifty years before any other known writings from mainland Europe.

UMSL archeologist Michael Cosmopoulos led the excavation that unearthed the tablet from a site in southwestern Greece.

“The tablets are accounting records, state accounting records, and they're the products of bureaucracy. So basically the Greeks of the period invented writing because of the bureaucratic needs of their states,” Cosmopoulos said.

Cosmopoulos says the tablet adds to evidence that the site was probably one of the nine state capitals of King Nestor, one of the most famous kings to fight in the Trojan War.

Cosmopoulos says the fragment has a word related to manufacturing on one side, and a list of male names with numbers on the other.

He says it's most likely part of a state government accounting record, possibly a tax record.

“So the fact that we have state records at such an early date and at a new site, suggests that bureaucracy and literacy developed earlier and were more widespread than what we had thought until now,” Cosmopoulos sayd.

The clay tablet dates back to about 1400 B.C. and is at least a hundred years older than any other known written record from continental Europe.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Photo: The back of the 2x3 inch tablet that was discovered in Iklaina, Greece. (Christian Mundigler) 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cape Girardeau opens new community center

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - Cape Girardeau’s newest recreation facility officially opened its doors on Monday. 

The Shawnee Park Center will be the new focal point of the Cape Girardeau Shawnee Sports Complex on the south end of the city.

Officials such as Mayor Harry Rediger and retiring Parks and Recreation Director Dan Muser officially cut the ribbon for the new facility.

The Shawnee Park Center features a high school regulation size basketball court, two regulation volleyball courts, a weight room, a full size kitchen, and a meeting room.

New manager Heather Davis says that the facility’s services are already in demand.

“We have a wedding reception scheduled. We’ve had some church groups inquire about pricing as well. There are some community groups that have been getting together in other places. They are looking for a new place to meet,” Davis said.

The $2 million dollar facility will provide a larger variety of sports at the Shawnee Sports Complex, according to City Councilman John Voss.

“Our theme so far has really been outdoor activities here at the Shawnee Sports Complex. And now we have another venue to provide some indoor activities to make this place used year-round,” Voss said.

Davis says that some after-school programs will be developed for the Shawnee Park Center in the fall that will incorporate student tutoring and physical activities.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Vilsack: South Korea free-trade pact would benefit Missouri farmers

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - Missouri farmers stand to benefit under a free-trade pact currently before Congress.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in St. Louis on Monday to urge Congress to pass the South Korean Free Trade Agreement.

He says Missouri exports large amounts of pork and soybeans. There products that have a ready market in South Korea.

“So it makes sense for us to be here in St. Louis because a good deal of those crops basically find their way to St. Louis and past St. Louis on the great Mississippi,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack is urging Congress to adopt the agreement before July. If that happens he says South Korea will eliminate 60 percent of its tariffs currently levied against U.S. imports.

“The average tariff currently assessed in agricultural products today is about 53 percent. So you can tell that when 60 percent of those tariffs are reduced immediately American products become far more competitive on the open market,” Vilsack said.

He also noted that Missouri has the most farms of any state in the country with 108,000.

Vilsack attended a ribbon cutting for the new operations center for National Agricultural Statistics Service located in Overland.

Adam Allington, St. Louis Public Radio

Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois Symphonies come together at Bedell

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestra and the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra came together for a night of musical collaboration at the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall at the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University.

The orchestras worked together on Monday night to present music from 19th century composer Richard Wagner, famous for his piece ‘Flight of the Valkyries,’ as well as 19th-20th century composer Max Bruch and 19th century composer, Modest Musorgsky.

Plenty of SEMO students were in attendance to appreciate the evening, such as Dakota Price. Studying music as a Minor, she felt the collaboration was beneficial to the knowledge of the musicians.

"As far as a collaboration goes, I think it’s a big thing for schools, especially music programs, to do because with music you can learn a lot of different things, and I think collaborating with another school and with other musicians helps a lot in terms of learning how to be a better musician," Price said.

The performance featured Violin Soloist David Halen, the Concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, who performed with the orchestras during Max Bruch’s arrangement, Violin Concerto in G Minor.

Daniel Rohr, KRCU

Monday, March 28, 2011

Opponents and supports square off on Cape's smoking ban ordinance

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The local Tea Party hosted a discussion on the proposed smoking ban at the Cape Girardeau Public Library on Saturday afternoon.

Sheri House, representing Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape, spoke first saying this was an issue about having the right to breathe clean, smoke free, indoor air.

She cited that over 900 studies supported the U.S. Surgeon General’s report that there is no safe level of second hand smoke.

Doc Cain, owner of Port Cape, spoke for Stand UP Cape, What’s Next? and began by saying this has been framed as a health issue but is actually about property owner’s rights and the right to engage in a legal activity.

He used studies from US Department of Energy, OSHA, and the British Medical Journal to support his stance, saying that measured levels of second hand smoke in restaurants were found to have little to no adverse health effects.

Audience members were also very vocal and at one point moderator Jeannie Hinck had to remind everyone that this was not a debate, merely a discussion.

KRCU and the Leaugue of Women Voters will host a debate on the smoking ban Tuesday at 7 pm at the Show-Me Center meeting room.

Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape received two contributions from the American Cancer Society last week. The first was for $24,750. The second contribution totaled $33,500 according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Matthew Caldwell, KRCU

Mountain lion sighting verified in Oregon County

Another mountain lion sighting has been verified in Missouri. This time, the animal was seen a little closer to Southeast Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says that DNA tests show that a tuft of hair found on a fence post in Oregon County belonged to a mountain lion, according to a press release.

Conservation agent Jerry Elliot retrieved the mountain lion hair after a witness saw an adult mountain lion cross the road and jump over the fence.

The MDC said that this is the sixth mountain lion sighting in Missouri since November of last year, but only the sixteenth in modern times.

The last mountain lion was killed in Missouri in the Bootheel in 1927.

Ex-teacher in the Mo. House argues to end teacher tenure

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - St. Charles County Representative Scott Dieckhaus (R) was a teacher for four years, one short of gaining tenure under Missouri's current system.

But now, four years later, he's a politician fighting to eliminate teacher tenure for K-12 education in Missouri.

Missouri State Teacher's Association spokesman Todd Fuller says the organization is fully against their former member's bill.

"As an association, we have been opposed to the bill in its form that focuses on teacher tenure since it's inception," Fuller said.

Fuller says currently teacher tenure is not a guarantee teachers will stay in their positions if they're not doing their job.

Dieckhaus' bill would also change the way teachers get paid: it would require yearly reviews based on the performance of their students on standardized tests.

Dieckhaus says the aim of this legislation is to ensure only the best teachers are in Missouri's classrooms.

Allison Blood, Missouri Digital News

University initiates "Southeast in the Year 2020" Initiative

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - Southeast Missouri State University has begun a “Southeast in the Year 2020” Initiative.

The goal of the initiative is to look at university education of the future.

An eight-member committee will evaluate trends in technology, curriculum, academics, academic programs, the role of faculty, student services, and student demographic changes.

The committee will attempt to identify new careers that will develop by 2020. They will also evaluate changing sources of funding, the global and local environment, technology, and the nature and culture of students in 2020.

The committee is chaired by Dr. Bill Eddleman, the chair of the Department of Biology.

Funding available for specialty and organic farmers

The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced that new funding will be available through the USDA for specialty farms.

The funds will be available to farmers who want to venture into new specialty crop production or to obtain organic certification, according to a Missouri Department of Agriculture press release.

About $200,000 will be available during fiscal year 2011.

Specialty Crops are defined by the USDA as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, maple syrup, honey, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

Doe Run, Missouri DNR reach agreement on lead cleanup

PARK HILLS, MO (KRCU) - Doe Run and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources reached an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up lead contamination in a popular state park and an adjacent floodplain.

Nearly 15% of St. Joe State Park near Park Hills is slated for cleanup. It is Missouri’s third largest state park.

St. Joe Minerals Corporation donated the park to Missouri DNR in 1976. The land was mined for lead between 1923 and 1972. St. Joe Mineral Corporation changed its name to Doe Run Resources Corporation in 1994.

According to an EPA press release, elevated levels of lead are present in the Shaw Branch of Flat River. Heightened lead has been found in sediment, surface water, and aquatic life.

Total cleanup will cost approximately $7 million and 18 months. Most of the costs will be covered by the bankruptcy settlement of American Smelting and Refining Company in 2009. A $7.7 million special account was specifically designed for St. Joe State Park, according to the EPA.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Repetitive head hits can bring lifelong repercussions

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The long-term impacts of concussions and repeated hits to the head lead to greater incidence of dementia and other disorders later in life.

That’s the message that Chris Nowinski brought to St. Francis Medical Center on Thursday. Nowinskispoke with about 40 junior high and high school coaches about concussions and a degenerative brain disorder called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

"What we’re finding is that hits to the head as a young person will spark this degenerative process that will follow you for the rest of your life and in a lot of ways will destroy your life. That means that we need to be much careful with not only concussions but also sub-concussive hits. Just the repetitive hits to your head that don’t cause symptoms but frankly are still bad for your brain," Nowinski says.

Symptoms of CTE include short term memory loss, violent outbursts, loss of impulse control, and depression.

CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem. Dave Duerson of the NFL’s Chicago Bears committed suicide in February of this year. Study of his brain suggests that he suffered from CTE.

Nowinski is the president and CEO of Sports Legacy Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. Nowinski is aHarvard graduate and former professional wrestler who retired from the WWE in 2003 after at least 6 concussions.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Emerson on nuclear power, Libya

JACKSON, MO (KRCU) - U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson remains undeterred in her support of nuclear energy.

Despite the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the Southeast Missouri Republican believes that nuclear power should remain a vital part of the United States’ energy portfolio.

Speaking after a Jackson Kiwanis Club meeting on Thursday, Emerson said that plants should only be built in areas that are far from strong seismic activity and are not prone to tsunamis. The tricky part comes in dealing with used fuel rods.

“Do you recycle them, which the European countries do and you just use them over and over again? Or do you continue trying to store them in Yucca Mountain, which is not going to happen at least at this point in time,” Emerson says.

Emerson believes that recycling nuclear rods holds promise in the future.

On the topic of Libya, Emerson isn’t sure what to make of President Barack Obama’s decision to join U.N. and Arab League forces to implement a no-fly zone over Libya.

While Presidents have historically engaged in military actions without Congressional approval, Emerson is distraught that the administration chose to get involved in Libya so quickly.

“The President had not outlined a goal or a mission, or an objective. He hadn’t really indicated how long this might take, or exactly what it might involve. And I don’t see any strategic importance to our country in the country of Libya,” Emerson says.

Emerson mentions that she is frustrated by the administration’s lack of communication and coordination with Congress on foreign affairs.

Emerson also met with constituents in Advance, Marble Hill, and Piedmont.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

American Cancer Society contributed $25K to Cape smoking ban ordinance

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The Missouri Ethics Committee reports that Citizens for a Smoke-Free Cape received $24,750 in contributions this week from the American Cancer Society.

The payment was made from the American Cancer Society’s High Plains division. The check was cut from their office in Oklahoma City. A spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society said that all checks written by the High Plains division originate from that city.

The American Cancer Society’s Regional Vice President Bridgett Myers said in an email that advocacy is one of the four goals of her organization, and that the Society’s “support of the smoke-free ballot measure is a direct investment in the Cape Girardeau community to improve everyone's health and reduce incidence of cancer.”

A representative from Smoke-Free Cape issued a statement saying that they want to make sure that they communicate effectively with voters to counter “misinformation” about the ordinance.

More details about Smoke-Free Cape’s expenditures will be available on Monday.

A representative from Stand Up Cape, What's Next? was not immediately available. The group is a citizen's organization that is rallying support the ordinance.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

U.S. Census: Center of population still in Missouri

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Missouri still boasts the nation's center of population.

The new demographic center of the U.S. is Plato, Missouri, an unincorporated village in Texas County in southern Missouri.

Plato has a population of 109 people.

The U.S. Census Bureau first calculated the center of population in 1790, when it was determined to be Chestertown, Maryland. Since then, it has steadily moved west.

The Census Bureau will install a marker at the site next month.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Southeast to raise residence hall rates, refinance Vandiver Hall

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - Southeast Missouri State University President Ken Dobbins says that residence hall rates will go up in the coming academic year.

President Dobbins will meet with the Board of Regents to discuss the 4% increase on Friday.

The board will also take up twenty-four million dollars in refinancing for Vandiver Hall, which President Dobbins describes as a common sense move to hold on to some cash in the long term.

"We will save between 56 and 63 thousand dollars a year for 21 years. That sounds like a pretty good deal year if you ask me. So that’s why we’re doing it," Dobbins says.

The President and the Board of Regents will also talk about approval for repair and maintenance projects for FY2012, approval for new minors, and accreditation of the athletics program.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Lions Club holds 73rd Annual Pancake Day

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The smell of pancakes and sausages filled the air at the AC Brase Arena building in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday for the 73 annual Lion’s Club Pancake Day.

The event is the Lions Clubs primary fundraiser. Four dollars could get you a plate of pancakes. Since the Lions Club works primarily with vision, diners can also donate a pair of prescription glasses in exchange for pancakes.

Bill Kole is the owner of Reality Executives, and he was in charge of this year’s Pancake Day. He says that organizing the volunteers who man the griddles and mind the beverages is a difficult chore in and of itself.

"We have 150 members, so it’s a lot of scheduling that goes on. But they are taking time out of their day to come out here because people enjoy it," Kole says.

In addition to vision, the Lions Club also works with local hearing tests, guide dogs, Crime Stoppers, and the United Way.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

High farmland prices put some Missouri family farmers out of business

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Record high farmland prices are putting some of Missouri's family farmers out of business.

Across the Midwest, farmland prices are increasing to levels higher than ever before.

Estil Fretwell, a spokesperson for the Missouri Farmers Bureau, says the high costs of crop products and increased competition for land has driven this sudden boom. Fretwell says the surge in land prices will discourage the next generation of farmers.

"If younger people, if it's more difficult for them to first get involved in farming because of pricing going up, it's going to discourage people from getting involved in farming. So certainly that's a concern," Fretwell says.

But Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank's econmist Brian Briggeman says an increase in farmland values will bring more money to struggling rural communities.

"Those property taxes are set based off the value of farmland in general in most palces. And as those values continues to rise that could increase tax revenues potentially. The price of farmland in Missouri has increased 6.6 percent in some parts of Missouri this year alone," Briggeman says.

Republican Koeltztown Representative Tom Loehner is sponsoring a bill to help young farmers.

Under the bill, struggling farmers could lease land at reasonable prices from the state.

There was no opposition to the bill in its committee hearing.

Elizabeth Hagedorn, Missouri Digital News

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Missouri to receive $27 million for job creation

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - Missouri is receiving $27 million in federal money to boost small business growth and job creation.

The State Small Business Credit Initiative supports state-level, small business lending programs and is part of the Small Business Jobs Acts signed by President Obama last fall.

Governor Jay Nixon made the announcement this morning (Tuesday) during a visit to the Centers for Emerging Technology, a St. Louis incubator lab working to advance technology companies.

"These investment funds will provide critical financing to help these businesses and others like them throughout our state grow and prosper, quite frankly, accelerate. This means that we’ll be able to continue to create jobs today and position our economy for continued growth in the future," Nixon says.

Nixon says Missouri’s use of the $27 million will help create new jobs and should spur more than $269 million in additional small-business lending in the state.

Julie Bierach, St. Louis Public Radio

Loughner to be evaluated in Springfield, Missouri

The suspected shooter of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others has been ordered to be transferred to Springfield, Missouri for a mental evaluation.

Federal Judge Larry Burns issued the order on Monday, saying an exam has to be conducted at the Springfield facility by April 29.

Burns said the Springfield prison has the most accomodating mental health unit to evaluate Jared Loughner on whether he was sane at the time of the shooting or whether he is sound enough to stand trial.

Loughner's public defender Judy Clarke has argued moving Loughner could make his mental state worse, as he would have no contact with his public defender during his stay in Missouri.

A spokeswoman for the Springfield Bureau of Prisons said the facility's mental health unit evaluates and treats 300 of the 1,100 inmates who are at the prison or are transferred there.

Loughner is accused of killing U.S. District Judge John Roll and five others

Meghann Mollerus, Missouri Digital News

Missouri GOP on McCaskill

Republicans are attacking Senator Claire McCaskill for failing to own up to her own rhetoric about openness and accountability.

The state Republican Party is calling on McCaskill to release tax records associated with a controversial airplane at the center of a tax and accounting scandal.

Lloyd Smith is the Director of state GOP. He says the only way to know if further problems exist is to release the full tax records associated with the airplane.

"She’s called for transparency time and time again—yet when its up under her own roof the only time she answer the tough questions is when reporters jerk back the curtain and expose LLC’s in Delaware and LLC’s in Missouri…that’s when she answer the questions," Smith says.

The plane is co-owned and leased through two LLC’s operated by McCaskill’s husband, millionaire businessman Joseph Shepard.

McCaskill has issued a check to St. Louis County for over $290 thousand in back taxes on the plane. She claims it was an oversight.

Adam Allington, St. Louis Public Radio

Russ Carnahan points to "obvious inconsistency" in foreign policy

Congressman Russ Carnahan says the United States needs to be careful that its involvement in enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya does not expand into another Middle Eastern war.

The Missouri Democrat says he’s pleased that President Obama has tried to limit the role of the U-S military in Libya, and that international allies are also involved.

"But I still have serious concerns, and so do a lot of the people I talk to in terms of the cost of a third war in the Middle East, on top of what we’re already doing, and the costs on our soldiers and their families," Carnahan said.

Carnahan also says the decision to get involved in Libya but not other countries where protesters were also killed points to an “obvious inconsistency” in American foreign policy.

Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

City council designs compromise on noise ordinance

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The ongoing debate over the noise ordinance in Cape Girardeau might soon find a compromise.

City Manager Scott Meyer, speaking at the City Council meeting Monday night, said that the city could issue seasonal permits to the few bars and venues that offer outdoor entertainment during warm weather.

"Well really, it’s an idea that is evolving, taking the combination of this event permit that we currently have and expanding that to be more of a seasonal permit that defines parameters of how venues can work, how they’ll be evaluated, and what level of noise, or music would be allowed at different times of the day and different days of the week," Meyers says.

Violations of the proposed permit may be given a small fine, but business owners could risk losing the permit for the next season.

Mayor Harry Rediger likes the idea of the permit and says he “doesn’t want to limit commercial activity.”

In other council news, a liquor license was granted to Cape Mart, at 238 N. Fountain Street, despite strong, outspoken opposition from nearby residents.

The council had previously denied the request at the last meeting due to community disapproval. However, they said their hands were tied because the prior business, Ganix Market, had been granted a liquor license.

Matthew Caldwell, KRCU

McCaskill admits failure to pay taxes on personal airplane

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s campaign for re-election next year took a hit on Monday.

The Senator admitted she neglected to pay close to $290 thousand in back taxes on an airplane she co-owns with her husband.
McCaskill’s first problems with the airplane came amid reports that she improperly billed the government for travel to a political event.

She has returned that payment.
However, McCaskill says a deeper investigation of the plane discovered a failure to pay $287 thousand dollars in back property tax … an oversight that she takes full responsibility for.

"I know what people are going to think about this, because I know exactly what I would think—how in the world does something like this happen? Ultimately the problem is I didn’t do what I should have done. I should have been the one to take responsibility and check and make sure that it had been done properly," McCaskill says.

Missouri is one of the few states to charge property tax on airplanes. Unlike other taxes, owners are required to self report.

The GOP Senatorial Committee is demanding the release of tax records for the LLC that owns the plane, along with information on each of the flights she took. The Missouri Republican Party has filed an ethics complaint against McCaskill.

Adam Allington, St. Louis Public Radio

Lab-grown gut microbes could help combat malnutrition, gastrointestinal diseases

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - Scientists have taken another step toward understanding human nutrition.
Using human fecal samples, the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine were able to grow entire collections of intestinal bacteria in the lab and transplant them into mice to test their response to different types of food. 

Wash University microbiologist Dr. Jeffrey Gordon says scientists will be able to use this method to better understand the health effects of human diets.

"Diets that are representative of different cultures around the world, diets that are emerging as a result of westernization, things that we add to diets – what is the impact of these ingredients not only on our gut microbial community, but our health," Dr. Gordon says.

Gordon says this information could eventually be used to help improve nutrition and develop treatments for obesity, Crohn's disease, and other gastrointestinal problems.

"This sort of approach can be used to understand the nutritional value of foods, how food shapes our gut microbial communities, how microbes are important agents of extracting energy and nutrients from our diet," Dr. Gordon says.

Gordon says this technique could also be used to identify specific microbes that play a key role in human nutrition and health.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Japanese students raise money for homeland

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - Several Southeast students have undertaken a relief effort for those affected in the Japanese earthquake that involved a tsunami and radiation leaks.

Yuhei Hikasa is a senior majoring in Sports Management. He is the student organizer of the "Pray for Japan: We Need Your Help" campaign.

He said that he and the other students​ wanted to help after surfing the Internet and seeing the devestation on television.

"Actually, we don't have a certain goal for it. We wanted everybody to know about the earthquake. Around this area there is a New Madrid plate, one of the most dangerous ones. We just wanted everyone to be aware of it," he said.

He said it's important that people learn from tragedies.

Southeast Missouri’s International Education Program says that there are 56 Japanese students enrolled at the university, but only one student is from the affected area in northeast Japan.

The students are currently collecting funds until March 30 in the University Center lobby. They will then send the money to the Red Cross.

Rachel Weatherford, KRCU

Monday, March 21, 2011

St. Francois native Ferlin Husky dies

County singer and Missouri native Ferlin Husky died on Thursday at a Nashville hospital. 

Husky had songs that topped the charts in the 1950s and 1960s, including “Gone”, which he wrote and performed. Another top Husky hit, “Wings of a Dove”, was written by Bob Ferguson.

Husky grew up in Flat River, Missouri in St. Francois County. He served in the Merchant Marines during World War II, and later worked as a disc jockey in Missouri and California.

In addition to his singing career, Husky also acted in 18 movies.

Husky was introduced into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

He was 85 years old.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU
Photo courtesy of

Turkey hunting limited at Peck Ranch this spring

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is closing portions of Peck Ranch Conservation Area to turkey hunting this season due to its elk reintroduction project. 

The MDC says that turkey hunters would disturb the elk, which will have recently arrived from Kentucky. They want to minimize human to elk contact during this time.

Area manager Ryan Houf says that other hunting seasons will not be affected by the elk.

“By the time any of our other hunting season come about, the elk will already be released out into the wild. This is just specifically dealing with spring turkey season,” Houf says.

The elk will be released slowly into the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Shannon and Carter Counties. The release is scheduled for late April. Spring turkey season runs between April 18 and May 8.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU
Peck Ranch Closure Map courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation

Ameren says that Callaway nuclear plant is safe

Ameren's sole nuclear power plant was built to handle “worst case” natural disasters. 

That’s what Ameren officials told reporters on Friday, at a press conference called in response to the nuclear crisis in Japan.

The utility’s Chief Nuclear Officer Adam Heflin says the Callaway County plant has numerous back-up safety systems. Those include six sources of electrical power designed to protect against a total station blackout like the one Japan.

“Probably the number one thing that we focus on is nuclear safety, and that’s protecting the health and welfare of the public,” Hefflin says.

Heflin says Callaway is designed to withstand the most severe earthquakes, tornadoes, and flooding that could happen in our region.

Missouri environmental groups say that no matter how safely a plant is designed and operated, it’s impossible to prepare for all the unknown variables involved in a natural disaster.

Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s Ed Smith calls the U.S. nuclear industry a “financial black hole” that he says is only surviving because of economic support from states and the federal government.

And Smith says the current nuclear crisis in Japan shows how difficult it is to protect nuclear plants from natural disasters.

“What we need to understand about nuclear power is that we don’t know all the answers to how to respond to a natural disaster because the variables are unknown,” Smith says.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio
Photo: Callaway Nuclear Plant courtesy of Ameren.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blunt on debt ceiling

The Obama Administration wants more room for U.S. debt, but that’s not sitting well with Missouri’s Republican Senator.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asked a Congressional subcommittee on appropriations on Wednesday to raise the debt ceiling, saying it has to be done because “there’s no alternative.”

Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt says unless lawmakers include fundamental changes in the way the feds spend money, he won’t vote for a rise in the country’s debt ceiling.

“I don’t believe Congress would do that and things that both change the budget process and impose controls on the federal government like a balanced budget amendment would are the kind of things that need to be not just part of the discussion by the determination to move forward with the debt ceiling,” Blunt says.

Blunt says last year was the first time since the early 1970s that both houses failed to pass a budget or a single appropriations bill.

Kirk Wayman, KXCV

Mo . House passes late-term abortion restrictions

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - According to a bill passed by the House, women no longer would be able to get abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy without a second doctor's opinion.

Under the bill, women still would be able to get an abortion if a second doctor gives approval for the procedure.

Doctors may be fined if they perform the procedure without a second opinion.

During the debate, Republican Representative John McCaherty said it is important to remember the restrictions of the bill apply only women who are over 20 weeks pregnant.

"At five months, my goodness, if you can't make a decision in five months, then there's more of a problem there than just the will to have an abortion," McCaherty says.

Some opponents of the bill argued it may be difficult for women of rural areas to access a second doctor, especially in the event of a medical emergency.

Others, like St. Louis Democratic Representative Tishuara Jones, spoke in opposition of any government control over a woman's decision.

"Get your hands out of my belly," Jones says. "Get them out, because this bill criminalizes the doctor-patient relationship and it tells women what to do with their bodies and their children."

Despite Jones's opinion, supporters of the bill said a fetus is considered viable at 20 weeks and therefore is a child.

Meghann Mollerus, Missouri Digital News

Still no agreement on unemployment benefits

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Missourians may soon be without their extended unemployment benefits. 23,000 Missourians still don't know whether they will see an unemployment check after April 3rd.

The senate adjourned for break without voting on a plan to accept $81 million in federal money to extend benefits from 79 to 99 weeks.

St. Louis County Republican Senator Jim Lembke previously filibustered the bill, saying it is wrong for the federal government to send borrowed money to states.

"If you went next door to your neighbor's house and went into their children's bedroom and stole their piggy bank. I mean, we're stealing from the next generation," he says.

Lembke reports that he's been getting more calls from people in other states than in Missouri.

"They're afraid that their state legislatures, you know, might get the same idea and it would affect them. My office responding to them is saying, well what the Senator is doing in Missouri doesn't affect you in Pennsylvania," Lembke says.

Leading Senate Republicans say they will use stronger measures if Lembke and his supporters continue to filibuster this bill.

Andrew Weil, Missouri Digital News

Missouri House passes six gun bills

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Pro-gun sentiments surrounded Missouri's House as they passed six bills relaxing regulations on firearms.

Lawmakers approved a package of gun bills after more than an hour of debate. Most of the debate focused on a plan to lower the legal age to carry a concealed weapon from 23 to 21.

Cass County Republican Representative Rick Brattin says it's important to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Missourians.

"It is our responsibility as legislators to make sure that the people have that right and the ability to access arms," Brattin says.

The bill also allows legislative staff members to carry concealed firearms in the statehouse. Elected officials already have this right.

Callaway County Republican Representative Jeannie Riddle sponsored the bill. She says staff members should have the same rights as the lawmakers they work for.

"This bill deals with law abiding citizens to protect their God-given, constitution-guaranteed right," Riddle says.

The Capitol has no security in place to enforce any type of weapons ban.

Helena Kooi, Missouri Digital News

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Metropolis casino closes as Ohio River rises

A swollen Ohio River forced Harrah’s Casino in Metropolis, Illinois to close yesterday. The casino will remain closed until river levels fall.

The Army Corps of Engineers has opened up field offices in Cape Girardeau and Caruthersville. While the Mississippi River has crested north of Cairo, Illinois, levels are expected to rise south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi.

Cairo has been at least 12 feet above flood stage for over a week. Army of Corps of Engineer spokesperson Jim Pogue mentions that the corps is carefully watching the situation at Cairo, and that this type of situation is somewhat common.

"Typically a week or two of water up on a levee is not going to be a source of concern. If you are talking months and months, then that’s a different story. But we don’t expect anything like that to happen," Pogue says.

South of the confluence, about 2/3 of the water in the Mississippi River actually originates in the Ohio. The remaining 1/3 of the water comes from the upper Mississippi.

The Corps is looking at communities such as New Madrid very closely for potential flood damage.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

McCaskill on nuclear power and ethics complaint

In the wake of the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill says the United States should re-evaluate the risk of nuclear energy and make smart decisions going forward.

Workers in Japan are trying to prevent a nuclear meltdown by cooling overheating reactors damaged by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.

McCaskill says Ameren Missouri’s Callaway Nuclear Plant is safer because it’s a "pressurized water reactor", not a "boiling water reactor" like the one in Japan.

"Ours is much safer because of that. And it has been built to withstand earthquakes. I think we are in a much better position in Missouri in terms of the nuclear facility that we have in light of what has gone on in Japan. But, nonetheless, we are going to be paying attention to the aftermath of this," McCaskill says.

McCaskill points out that every source of energy has risks saying that the U.S.’s dependence on the Middle East for oil puts the country’s national security at risk.
The Senator also says she is embarrassed by the recent revelation that she was reimbursed for using a private airplane to attend a political event in 2007.

The Democrat’s comments come a day after the Missouri Republican Party filed an ethics complaint against her.

Last week, McCaskill repaid the U.S. Treasury $88,000 for 89 airplane trips she organized through a company in which she and her husband have an ownership stake. The trips were allowed by Senate rules, but McCaskill said she wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
McCaskill says the complaint filed by Republicans is more about politics than ethics.

"Missouri Republican Party is going to try to ride this horse for as long as they can. They’re gonna try to make this as big a deal as they can. Them filing an ethics complaint is about as surprising as the sun coming up," McCaskill said.

McCaskill says she’s glad that such details about domestic travel are public record so members of Congress are held accountable. She says she is pushing for the same kind of transparency in foreign travel.

Julie Bierach, St. Louis Public Radio

Prop B supporters protest changes to law

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI PUBLIC RADIO) - Protesters walked the halls of the Capitol, to defend the choice Missouri voters made last November when they approved Proposition B.

The bill to repeal parts of Proposition B was given first round approval by the Senate last week, a decision some Missouri dog lovers don't agree with.

The protesters say the bill would give power back to the dog breeders. Sponsor of the bill Senator Mike Parson says the protesters do not fully understand what his bill does.

"I don't agree with them. I think they're trying to say things that are really not true. They are going around saying we are trying to repeal the bill and that's their mindset that's fine, but I don't think my intent was ever to repael proposition B," Parsons said.

Parson says his bill improves on prop B, by strengthening laws against unlicensed breeders.

Protester Susan Tolliver says she is embarrassed by the state of Missouri's association with puppy millswhich have been chronicled on national television programs. The protestors hope to encourage legislators to vote aginst the bill.

Megan McGinnis, Missouri Digital News

EPA proposes new power plant air standards

ST. LOUIS, MO (ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first-ever national standards for air pollution from power plants.

The new rules would require many power plants to install technologies to control mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants.

Environment Missouri’s Ted Mathys says the new standards would help protect the health of Missourians.

“We know that because Missouri has a significant amount of mercury pollution from our coal fired power plants that these regulations will help protect Missouri’s families and our wildlife from the dangerous effects of mercury pollution,” Mathys said.

Ameren Missouri says installing new pollution controls could cost hundreds of millions of dollars — costs the company says could be passed on to customers.
Ameren’s Vice President of Environmental Services, Mike Menne, says installing the required pollution controls could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars and increase rates to consumers.

“This particular rule will require controls on every coal-fired power plant we have. We’re going to be attempting to control things that we’ve never tried to in the past,” Menne said.

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Animals taken from Bonne Terre shelter

BONNE TERRE, MO (KRCU) - Animal care inspectors from the Missouri Department of Agriculture worked with the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department to remove more than 120 dogs and 60 cats from a Bonne Terre facility on Tuesday.

The facility operated under the name The St. Francois Society.

The Animal Care Facilities Act license was revoked after inspections revealed gross negligence for animal welfare.

The animals were taken to the Humane Society of Missouri’s Headquarters in St. Louis.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Missouri farmers increase cotton acreage

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - You can expect to see a lot more cotton and less rice in Southeast Missouri farm country this year. 

Futures prices of cotton recently touched 2 dollars per pound, according to Patrick Westhoff of the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. Just two years ago, cotton was selling for 50 cents per pound.

Therefore, Westhoff says that farmers are going to be devoting more acres to cotton this year than in years past.

“When prices for corn and other crops went very high, it made it more attractive to plant corn and soybeans than it did to plant cotton. So our cotton production declined year over year for a couple of straight years,” Westhoff said. “Then we came out of the world recession in 2010 and this year, we’ve seen cotton demand go back up again worldwide.”

Regardless, director Pat Westhoff says farmers won’t give up on corn or wheat just to plant more cotton.

“We think we’re going to see an increase most of the major crops this year. Normally if you see one crop going up it means that some other crop is going down in acreage. This may be the year where we might actually see an increase in production of three of the major crops. Corn, cotton, and, wheat could all see increased acreage in 2011 as compared to 2010,” he said.

Fewer acres will be devoted to rice, due to a drop in prices. Both cotton and rice are exclusively grown in the Southeast corner of the state.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Photo courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture

Lawmakers, Ameren continue plans for second Callaway plant

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Missouri lawmakers and Ameren Missouri have not given up their plans to pursue building a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County, despite recent problems at a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Last week, a Senate committee heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of the proposed second Callaway plant just two days prior to a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan, causing three reactor explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Even though these explosions have spotlighted potential problems with nuclear plants, Ameren, the state's main utility provider, and its legislative supporters have not changed their stance on legislation dealing with plans for another nuclear plant.

Ameren's Business Operations Supervisor, Rick Eastman, said that Japan's problems with its nuclear reactors have not impeded the company's promotion of legislation pushing for an early site permit needed to begin construction of a second plant in Callaway County.

Eastman also said Ameren has several safety procedures in place to deal to deal with emergency situations, including those caused by natural disasters such as an earthquake or tornado. These safety precautions include steel-enforced concrete walls, seismic sensors, backup generators as well as the ability to shut down the plant if anything "out of the ordinary" is noticed.

"If there is anything that might threaten the plant, the first step is to shut the reactor down," Eastman saidSen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, the sponsor of the bill, agreed with Eastman and said Missouri's energy future cannot be influenced by international events and that the option for nuclear power has to be left open.

"We have to continue to talk about what sources of energy we are going to get for this state," Kehoe said. "The unfortunate incident in Japan has not changed the fact that coal is a very expensive source that is under attack from various groups from A to Z, so the way we produce power in this state is, unfortunately, not going to be changed by what happens globally, and the demand for power in this state is going to continue to be there and continue to be a need that we need to address."

So far the Fukushima plant in Japan has suffered from three explosions, which have severely damaged three reactors and caused a fire in a fourth. Following last Friday's earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the Fukushima plant's cooling systems failed, causing spent fuel rods to spike in temperature, cracking the casings around the rods. Once the casings around the rods became damaged, Japanese officials believe that the rods, after coming into contact with the steam released hydrogen gas, which was then vented out of the reactors and caused the explosions.

Eastman, said that the utility provider is waiting for the legislation to make its way through the General Assembly so the company can keep the option of building another plant open. If the proposed legislation passes, Ameren would be allowed to apply for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as charge its ratepayers an additional two dollars for up to 20 years to pay for the construction of the new nuclear facility.

"No decision to build a second plant has been made, the whole legislation regarding the site permit is simply to keep the option open as we continue to look at what's the best thing to do for Missouri's energy future," Eastman said. "If we were to push forward with approved site permit legislation and Ameren Missouri were to file for an application [to build a plant], part of what we would use the three year NRC review time for is to look at all of the various technologies."

Kehoe said that despite general safety concerns, due to strict safety standards in the country, any nuclear plants that Ameren would build would be sufficiently safer then the Fukushima plant in Japan, which was built in 1967.

"It would be irresponsible for someone to say there are no safety concerns," Kehoe said. "There are always safety concerns when you build any kind of project...I think the facilities that we would go forward with would be engineered through the early site permit process to withstand any possible acts of nature that we could have."

The Fukushima Unit 1 reactor follows the Genereal Electric Mark 1 reactor design, making it a boiling water reactor meaning that the coolant water for spent fuel rods is also used for the steam turbine system, causing a high probability of radioactive contamination of the water. According to a report released by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a nuclear energy information and watchdog group, there are 23 similar reactors in the United States, four of which are located in Illinois. Unlike these reactors, Ameren's current Callaway plant is a pressurized water reactor, which separates the coolant water from the steam turbine system, reducing the risk of radioactive contamination.

At the committee hearing last Friday, Ameren's CEO, Warren Baxter promoted the benefits of a potential second Callaway plant in front of the Senate committee."[A site permit] gives us the opportunity to access federal incentives, which can save our customers money," Baxter said at the hearing. "Certainly there is no doubt that a nuclear plant could present a great economic development opportunity by creating thousand of clean energy jobs and hundreds, if not more, permanent jobs in the future."

Matthew Patane, Missouri Digital News
Photo: Callaway Nuclear Plant courtesy of Ameren

Mo. Senate agrees on worker's compensation

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Missouri Senators voted to allow Missourians to keep workers' compensation benefits even after they sue third parties.

This bill allows Missourians who suffered injuries from toxic exposure in the workplace to keep all of their workers' compensation money.

The amendment's sponsor, Cape Girardeau Republican Senator Jason Crowell says he is trying to compromise on this bill before it gets to the governor.

"I'm not going to vote to override the Governor if he vetoes, I'm going to give him silent applause and say rock on," Crowell said.

The bill, along with Cowell's amendment, will get a final vote as early as Thursday. 

Andrew Weil, Missouri Digital News

Marble Hill to buy out six flood-prone properties

MARBLE HILL, MO (KRCU) - The Missouri Department of Economic Development announced five million dollars in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for communities that were affected by floods in 2008.

The city of Marble Hill received over seventy-thousand dollars that will be used to match funds from FEMA to acquire six homes in the Crooked Creek floodplain in the middle of Marble Hill.

Marble Hill’s administrative assistant Gary Shrum says that the properties have repeatedly flooded over the years.

"Once these properties are purchased, they will be turned into park areas or park spaces where they can be utilized for recreation," Shrum said.

Shrum says that this is not the city’s first attempt at buying the properties.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mo. Senate takes up "Right to Work"

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Rowdy union members packed the Senate gallery for debate on their collective bargaining rights.

Union members filled the chamber gallery, occasionally earning a reprimand from the president pro tem. Senators debated a measure that would change the collective bargaining rights for Missouri workers on Monday.

The bill would prohibit employers from requiring their workers to join a union or pay union fees.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Luann Ridgeway, says "right to work" would give employees a chance to decide if they're being represented fairly by a union.

Proponents said passing the bill would be the single most important thing to bring jobs to Missouri.

Democratic Minority Leader Victor Callahan said the bill weakens the collective voice and power of workers across the state.

The bill is awaiting amendments and will hit the floor again at the end of March.

Jamie Hausman, Missouri Digital News

Drunk doctors would face criminal charges under new bill

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - What do you get when you cross a doctor and a bottle of Scotch? If the doctor is in the operating room, the answer is a class B misdemeanor.

Drunk doctors would face criminal charges if they practice medicine while intoxicated under a newly proposed bill.

Representative Vicki Schneider proposed a bill that would charge doctors who do this with a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony if the patient is harmed.

Paul Passanante, a medical malpractice attorney in St.Louis, supports the bill. "If it's illegal to drive while intoxicated it sure ought to be illegal to perform something like surgery," he said.

Jeff Howell, spokesperson for the Missouri State Medical Association, agrees that this is a problem that should be addressed. However, he opposes this specific bill,, calling it "unworkable."

"It pretty much requires some type of drug test at the operating room door. And not only does it apply to physicians but it casts a much wider net. It applies to any licensed health care professional," Howell said.

Committee chair Representative Rodney Schad said the bill will be discussed in upcoming meetings.

Kadee Brosseau, Missouri Digital News

Plane that landed at SIU farm was bound for Poplar Bluff

The pilot of the airplane that made an emergency landing just outside of Carbondale, Illinois on Friday was on his way home to Poplar Bluff.

Matt Hillis, who has had his pilot license for two years, was flying his Columbia 400 four-seater back from an Indianapolis Pacers game. He was at 10,000 feet and about 25 miles southwest of Carbondale when he starting losing power to his engine.

Hillis says he turned around to land at Carbondale’s airport when he completely lost power.

“I mean at that point, the only thing you can do is try to make it to the airport. And if you can’t, find the safest place to put it down as possible,” Hillis said.

Unable to find a road without any cars, Hillis had to touch down in the Southern Illinois University farm.

“The way that it was, the lay of the land was real hilly so I kind of bounced off a couple of hills before I came skidding to a stop,” the pilot said.

Hillis was uninjured in the landing, but his airplane is totaled. The Federal Aviation Administration is still conducting an investigation into the incident.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Flags at half-staff in honor of Frank Buckles

The U.S. and Missouri flags at state buildings in all Missouri counties and the City of St. Louis will be flown at half-staff today in honor of Frank W. Buckles.

Buckles will be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr. Buckles, who was born in Bethany in Harrison County, Missouri and also lived as a child in Vernon County, Missouri was the last surviving American veteran of the First World War. He passed away on February 27 at the age of 110.

Broadband meeting today in Dexter

The Bootheel Regional Technology Planning Team will hold its first meeting today in Dexter to assess the current status of broadband access in Southeast Missouri, according to a press release from the Missouri Office of Administration.

The meeting is part of a plan to increase broadband access across the state. Currently, only 80% of Missourians have broadband access.

The meeting will be held at the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission office located at 105 E. North Main St.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cape receives $250K for bike lanes

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The streets of Cape Girardeau will soon become safer for bicycle riders. 

Cape has received a $250,000 Ride the City grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health that will create 40 miles of bike lanes and install 156 bike racks.

Eric Redinger, member of the local Bicycle Advisory Council says this grant will connect schools, parks, and recreational facilities with bike lanes..

"I think it’s just great, I think it’s great for bicycle enthusiasts because you can travel through the city so much easier," Redinger says. "That is also a big benefit for people right now with unsteady gas prices."

Redinger feels this will also benefit children making it safer for them to ride their bikes to school.

The Bicycle Advisory Council will be working with the city to implement the grant over the next few months.

Redinger says the bike lanes should be completed by October of this year.

Matthew Caldwell, KRCU

Cape Girardeau real estate market shows improvements

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - The first two months of 2011 showed improvement for Cape Girardeua’s real estate market as compared to the same time frame in 2010.

Tom Meyer of Exit Reality says that property is selling for about 90 percent of its listed price. Over the past year, this ratio has stood between 80 and 85 percent. This could either be the result of sellers confronting reality and setting lower listing prices … or that buyers are approaching buyers’ demand.

Meyer says that media reports have overexaggerated the role of foreclosures. Or at least that’s the case for Southeast Missouri.

“We do have foreclosures. That came about because of some lending practices. That’s true. But it’s not overwhelming us. We are a very diverse, conservative community,” Meyer says.

Meyer says that properties listed under 75 thousand dollars are very active. First-time home buyers are keeping the 80 to 130 thousand dollar market strong. However, Meyer calls homes listed between 125 and 225 thousand dollars a ‘dead price range.’ Houses listed above 225 thousand dollars continue to be strong.

The average price for houses sold thus far in 2011 is about 140 thousand dollars. The average price of houses on the Cape Girardeau market is 175 thousand dollars.

These figures represent Cape Girardeau County, as well as northern Scott, southern Perry, and Bollinger Counties.

Jacob McCleland, KRCU

Friday, March 11, 2011

Missouri Senate to debate Right to Work on Monday

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - One of the most divisive issues between businesses and labor groups will be up for debate on Missouri Senate floor Monday.

The Missouri Senate will debate a bill Monday barring employers from forcing workers to pay union fees or dues.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation president Mark Mix says letting workers opt out of unions will bring jobs to the state.

"First and foremost it's an individual freedom issue. But secondly, I think it can be demonstrated almost without any argument that freedom in the workplace can translate into a better economic environment," Fix said.

But critics, such as St. Louis Democratic Senator Robin Wright-Jones, say "Right to Work" is actually the "Right to Work for Less," saying the measure would bring lower wages for all workers.

"There's nobody to come to the front of the worker to say this is what we need. There's no bargaining. There's no sit down at the table. And that's how everything is done through compromise. And we've just taken that away," Wright-Jones said.

Wright-Jones says losing those fees would make unions weaker.

She says that cuts their bargaining power and would lead to lower wages.

Elizabeth Hagedorn, Missouri Digital News

MDC holds prescribed burn workshop

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KRCU) - A well controlled fire can be an important land management tool.

That was one of the messages at a Missouri Department of Conservation workshop Thursday evening in the Nature Center in Cape Girardeau.

The workshop covered several different important aspects of preparing for and conducting a prescribed burn. Topics for the workshop included ideal weather conditions for burning, the importance of a burn plan, and ensuring that there is adequate equipment and people to help reduce the probability of a prescribed burn becoming a wildfire.

Dave Hasenbeck, a private lands biologist, was a facilitator at the meeting and emphasized the main points of the workshop.

"Prescribed fire is probably the lowest cost and biggest bang for your effort management tool that you can do in the Southern Ozarks. But, once again, it comes with some risk and you just need to be aware of those risks prior to the burn," Hasenbeck said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation will host another prescribed burn workshop and demo burn on April 5th.

Katie Long, KRCU

Mo. Senate limits discrimination protection

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Opposition by Senate Democrats and one Republican is not enough to stop the plan to limit discrimination protection for government employees.

The Senate passed a bill that calls for the state's employee discrimination laws to mirror the federal government's.

It would stop former employees from suing for discrimination after the state fired them.

Republican Brad Lager says taxpayers are paying for lawsuits against the state. He says those in opposition need to realize the basis of federal law is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"They are essentially saying that that has not done it's job and clearly it has," Lager said.

Clay County Republican Senator Luann Ridgeway and Senate Democrats voted against the bill.

St. Louis County Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal opposes the plan, saying it weakens discrimination protections when they should be strengthened.

"I can tell you right now if people are being discriminated now obviously the Civil Rights Law of 1964 is not enough," Chappelle-Nadal said.

The measure now moves on to the House.

Anderw Weil, Missouri Digital News

Mo. Senate votes to undo Prop B

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - In what has become an urban vs. rural debate since November, the Missouri Senate voted to undo some Proposition B measures restricting activity in state dog breeding facilities.

Twenty Missouri Senators voted against some of the restrictions voters passed with Proposition B in November.

The bill lifts the 50-dog limit and larger cage size requirements in breeding facilities.

Although the bill passed out of the Senate, Republican St. Louis Senator John Lamping warned there is a problem easing restrictions Missourians voted to pass.

"There's a risk to legislating this way, by proposition. I think I'm quite confident that my district read the bill, did their best to understand the bill, and voted their will. I think this is a very dangerous way to legislate," Lamping said.

The bill now will go to the House.

Meghann Mollerus, Missouri Digital News

Southeast offers Psychology degree at regional campuses

The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education has approved the off-site delivery of the Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at Southeast Missouri State University’s regional campuses in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett, Mo., and at the Perryville Higher Education Center to begin next fall.

About 50 students have expressed an interest in pursuing in a degree at regional campuses. Twenty-five students are expected to form the first cohort.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mo. House considers statewide psuedoephedrine bill

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Missouri lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban over-the-counter sales of medicines containing the drug pseudoephedrine.

Several law enforcement officials testified in front of the House Crime committee in support of a bill that would make medicines such as Sudafed available only by prescription. 

Currently, Missouri tracks and limits the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy. 

This is because it is the main ingredient of the drug methamphetamine. 

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan says police officers are not properly trained or equipped to handle activities occurring in meth labs. 

"We're supposed to be cops, not chemists. We're supposed to be in uniforms, not white chemical resistant suits, taking down labs," Jordan said.

Lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and retail industries spoke in opposition to the measure. 

No further action was taken on this bill.

Brian Pepoon, Missouri Digital News

Crowds gather to discuss Callaway nuclear power plant

JEFFERSON CITY (MISSOURI DIGITAL NEWS) - Testifiers on a plan for a second nuclear plant for Callaway County gathered outside two Senate hearing rooms Wednesday a hour before a hearing on the issue even began, causing blockage of a hallway that continued even after Senate doormen allowed some of the crowd to enter the rooms.

The crowd, consisting of both supporters and dissenters of the plan, were forced to accumulate on nearby benches and watch the proceedings on a TV provided for them in the hallway. Each person in the crowd came to provide their opinions on an attempt by the state's main utility provider, Ameren Missouri, to put the cost of building the plant on its ratepayers.

In order to build the plant, Ameren needs to acquire a early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which would allow the utility company to hire outside researchers to analyze environmental, geological and safety aspects of the proposed building site. Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the bill is a compromise between Ameren, supporting energy providers and state lawmakers to ensure the site permit moves forward, while ratepayers are still protected from suffering a major tax-increase.

"After multiple meetings, I came up with [the bill], which is laid out to be a compromise, but I want to be clear, it is not an agreement to the letter from either side." Kehoe said. "No one on either side of this equation was 100 percent happy with it but it represents, me, as a common sense guy, saying I recognize what needs to be done and the need for consumer protection, and I thought that was fair."

Warner Baxter, CEO of Ameren Missouri, said the ratepayers would be charged an additional two dollars for the average resident and two-tenths of one percent for the larger industrial users. Baxter called the charge a low cost for building and promoted the potential benefits a site permit and nuclear plant could bring.

"[A site permit] gives us the opportunity to access federal incentives, which can save our customers money," Baxter said. "Certainly there is no doubt that a nuclear plant could present a great economic development opportunity by creating thousand of clean energy jobs and hundreds, if not more, permanent jobs in the future."

To protect the ratepayers, Kehoe said his bill provides certain instructions about how much Ameren can charge as well as procedures for ratepayer rebates if for some reason Ameren does not use the site permit to build a nuclear plant:
  • The proposal places a "hard cap" on the amount of money Ameren can recover from its customers to pay for the site permit. According to the proposal, Ameren cannot collect more then $40 to $45 million from its ratepayers.

  • Ameren can only conduct the additional rate for a period of 20 years. Once this period has concluded, Ameren can no longer collect fees from the ratepayers to help pay for the site permit. Ameren estimates, however, hold that at two dollars per resident per year, the company should be able to allot enough money to reach the $40 to $45 million cap.

  • If the site is not built, the bill requires Ameren to give back the money it collected. Should the bill pass, if for some reason Ameren does not receive the site permit from the NRC, decides to sell it or does not build the plant, the utility provider would need to present a rebate to the ratepayers that equals the amount the company received from the consumers, including interest. Ameren would need to present the credit to ratepayers in a five to ten year period.
Opponents to the bill, such as members from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said making consumers pay for the plant's construction went along with the Construction Work in Progress proposal, which allows utilities to charge ratepayers for the payment of new power plants during construction. Ed Smith, the No-CWIP representative with the Coalition, stated that the proposed legislation should not pass since voters shot down similar legislation two years ago and that Ameren needed CWIP to build the second Callaway reactor.

"Without CWIP, Ameren would not be able to finance a second nuclear reactor and Ameren needs CWIP because the free market gave up on nuclear power decades ago," Smith said. "While construction of a second nuclear reactor is sure to create jobs in Missouri, no state has ever improved its economic well-being by going with the more expensive option."

Smith also said that Missourians should not be left to "pick up the tab on a 50-50 gamble" that he said Ameren has already spent millions of dollars on pursuing.

Matthew Patane, Missouri Digital News