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Damming the Osage


Damming the Osage: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir by Leland and Crystal Payton.
Published by Lens & Pen Press, 4067 Franklin, Springfield MO 65807, $25 postpaid.
See http://www.dammingtheosage.com

dto-cover-720Leland and Crystal Payton, prolific authors of books with lots of photographs about the history and culture of the Ozarks and about American culture generally, have tackled the history of human use and transformation of the Osage River. Their focus is on the political and financial machinations which resulted in the construction of Bagnell Dam and Truman Dam and their impoundments in the along the northwestern boundary of the Missouri Ozarks. Their original photographs and reproductions of graphics from newspapers, maps, magazines and advertising materials, provide a collage of images of the area before and after its transformation, as well as the images created by promoters of how it might look.

The book covers the history of the residents of Osage basin, from prehistory to the present. From its origin in eastern Kansas to Bonnots Mill, the Osage flows through prairies along the northern Ozarks border into the Missouri River, at a point seven miles east of Jefferson City. Many and diverse primary sources, such as the writings of explorers and newspaper accounts, as well as the work of archaeologists, historians and other social scientists, make the book a rich trove.

The theme of book is consistent with my own take on the history of the development of North America over the past five centuries, which is that development has been driven by the opportunities created by government investment for private investors seeking wealth through the subdivision of real estate and exploitation of natural resources. George Washington was a land surveyor, as was Thomas Jefferson’s father Peter. The Washingtons, the Jeffersons and other promoters–working hand in hand with the government–used every public and private resource they could muster to carve up the Appalachian frontier and beyond into reservations, territories and states for private and public gain. Eventually, the whole country became subdivided. In the case of the valley of the Osage River, the land was divided into lake lots and condo units and multi-purpose reservoirs.

Bagnell Dam and Lake of the Ozarks

The Paytons identify Ralph Street, an “obscure Kansas City lawyer,” and Walter Craven, a mortgage banker also from Kansas City, as the fathers of Lake of the Ozarks. Street and Craven wangled a construction permit from the Federal Power Commission for the Bagnell Dam in 1924 and began acquiring options to buy land. The FPC and the Missouri Public Service Commission awarded permanent licenses for the project in 1926 to Craven, who transferred the licenses to Union Electric in 1929, after Craven failed to obtain construction financing.

Unlike other popular accounts of dam-building in the Ozarks, the Paytons pay careful attention to what existed at various times before the construction destroyed towns (Linn Creek) and roads that connected towns, cutting off neighbors from one another. The occupation by Osage Indians is described, as well as the vain attempts to modify the river to enhance navigation in the steamboat era. Later, the valley was the pathway of railroads, many of them unsuccessful. Some sites, such a Monegaw Springs in St. Clair County and Ha Ha Tonka in Camden County, were beautiful places that captured the dreams of real estate salesmen and promoters of tourism.Caplinger Mills

Once Bagnell Dam was completed in 1931, a particular flavor of tourist development was created around Lake of the Ozarks, remnants of which may be seen along the old parts of Missouri Highway 7 and US Highway 54 that have been bypassed by newer roads. The Paytons give us color and black-and-white reproductions of tourist pottery, wood carvings, fieldstone cabins, and garish billboards, as well as the intense condo development that came in the past two decades.

Truman Dam and Truman Lake

Though the Corps of Engineers had opposed the construction of dams, including Bagnell Dam, by private companies, the Corps did not have a clear legislative mandate to build dams for flood control, hydropower, and irrigation, though it had always been engaged in construction and maintenance of levees and drainage of wetlands. In 1926, Congress asked the Corps to study 180 rivers and their tributaries to examine the feasibility of federal construction of reservoirs. The Corps’ report on the Osage basin, delivered in 1933, proposed dams on Pomme de Terre, the Osage River above Osceola, and the Grand River just north of its confluence with the Osage. In 1944, FDR approved the Pick-Sloan Plan for development of the Missouri River basin, and the dams on the upper Osage were among the 107 dams authorized.

Pointing out that “Civic organizations in Warsaw, Clinton and Osceola were convinced that a dam, any dam, anywhere on the Osage would guarantee prosperity,” the Paytons designate Haysler A. Poague, a judge in Clinton, as the “stepfather” of the Truman Dam. Poague became an advocate of one large dam at Kaysinger Bluff near Warsaw, rather than the two smaller dams proposed by the Corps in 1933.

A massive flood in 1951 convinced Congress and the public that spending money to put people to work and to control and store water was worth doing; the Paytons do not point out that the most severe drought in recorded history followed the 1951 flooding, which surely added to the public support for a water project. However, funding of the project was delayed other priorities—the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty, according to the Paytons—but the land acquisition and construction began in the mid-1960s. In 1972, just as work was beginning on the dam, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Missouri chapter of the Wildlife Society, and several other organizations and citizens, including Leland Payton, filed suit in federal court seeking to stop the construction of the project.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) required federally funded projects to be preceded by meaningful environmental impact statements, giving environmentalists a tool to challenge the adequacy of the investigation of ecological impacts of projects. In the case of the Truman Dam, the opponents were concerned about the fate of the paddlefish, among other issues, and could also point out that the cost-benefit analysis provided by the Corps strained to show net economic benefits.

The final third of Damming the Osage depicts the political and legal wrangling over whether Truman Dam and its impoundment would be completed.
Missouri’s congressional delegation led by Senator Stuart Symington, members of the state legislature, and virtually all local officials, as well as chambers of commerce, supported the project, even though biologists and many farmers opposed it.

While the town of Clinton seems to have held its own, most of the Truman Lake area has continued to decline. Missourians have had to cope with the negatives. The Missouri Department of Conservation learned to raise paddlefish in hatcheries, so that they would not be extirpated in the Osage basin. Engineering oversights resulted in fish kills below Truman Dam and massive erosion below Stockton Dam on the Sac River, a major tributary of the Osage, which required additional land acquisition and bank stabilization.

During the same era, the Corps of Engineers’ will and ability to marshal support for dam projects seems to have ended. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provided environmentalists with stronger arguments. After tremendous fights, Congress deauthorized dam projects on the Meramec River in Missouri and the Buffalo River in Arkansas, as elected officials listened to a broader swath of their constituents and began to question the wisdom of destroying the last few free-flowing rivers.

The Paytons have captured the spirit of the times the book covered. The text is thorough and the images are vivid. While Leland Payton was clearly opposed to the construction of Truman Dam, the positions of the proponents are fairly explained. Damming the Osage is an essential chronicle of how dams and reservoirs gain momentum and get built, even though they make sense perhaps for only a minority.Truman Dam

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Great food in an unexpected location: Sparta’s Mossy River Pie Hole


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I felt that the words above the window were speaking directly to me.

I couldn’t help but pull over while I was on one of my noontime foraging expeditions on the east side of Ozark, Missouri.

Set up under a shade tree at the corner of Missouri highways 14 and 125 in Sparta, about eight miles east of the Ozark WalMart and US 65, Gjetta Moss has just started her second month serving delicious lunches and suppers.

I keep coming back for more. Today I had lemonade from just-squeezed lemons, which paired perfectly with a BLT and peppery coleslaw.

Despite a couple of college degrees and years of restaurant experience, Gjetta hasn’t found the job she needs. She’s trying the time-honored bootstrap method of making her way in the world, keeping the overhead low and the quality of the food as high as she can make it, served with a big smile.Image

Coverdell decision set aside, as Branson Landing case goes back to trial court

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Using the “plain error” doctrine, rarely used in civil cases, the Court of Appeals for the Southern District of Missouri, in Empire District Electric Co. v. Coverdell, reversed and remanded a January 14, 2010 jury verdict that had awarded Douglas Coverdell and Coverdell Enterprises the north third of Branson Landing and adjacent areas. This decision is dated June 3, 2011.

The appellate decision is based on the City of Branson’s argument that the trial court made a serious mistake by allowing the jury to enter a verdict affecting the property interests of the City of Branson (and others) who did not participate in the trial.  The appellate court accepted the City’s argument that “plain error review” would be appropriate, because the court’s error was “so egregious as to ‘weaken the very foundation of the process’ and ‘seriously undermine confidence in the outcome of the case.’ ” Empire’s appellate arguments were not addressed in the decision, according to a footnote, since the court’s acceptance of the City’s arguments was sufficient to warrant reversal.

The City of Branson did not participate in the trial held in January 2010, though the City’s attorney was present in the gallery of the court room for much of the trial. In an earlier phase of the case, which took place in 2004, the City had won its effort of affirm its title to the west portion of the peninsula shared with North Beach Park. Thereafter, the City was in a monitoring mode, not aware that title to the City’s land, leased to Branson Landing, would be the subject of the trial.

The appellate court tied its decision to the words of Coverdell’s attorney, spoken to the jury, who told the jury in the January 2010 trial that the dispute with Empire concerned only the east part of the North Park Beach peninsula. Coverdell’s attorney is also quoted as telling the jury that the City “has nothing to do with this dispute between Empire and [Coverdell and Coverdell Enterprises.]”

However, the judgment that Coverdell’s attorneys submitted to the trial judge after the juy verdict included 27 acres that included the Belk store and parking lot at the between North Beach Park and the Belk store, as well as some of the area south and west of the Belk store. The trial court’s mistake was to cloud the title of the City and others who were did not participate in the 2010 trial. The owners of much of the 27 acres were not parties to the suit, which appears to be the fundamental reason for reversal of the trial court’s judgment. The appellate opinion refers to City’s statement that the City “as well as numerous other third parties, have interests in that southern tract of land such that Branson was aggrieved by the 2010 judgment.”

The appellate decision gives the City and Empire the right to amend their claims and face Coverdell in a new trial.

Getting outside in the Ozarks


Within a week, the heat wave will have run its course and we’ll surely have a little rain. Then we can get moving again in the wonderful Ozarks outdoors and watch the greens become gold, orange and red.

Here are some links for outdoor activities Read the rest of this entry

Branson Landing and the dilemmas of economic development


Cliff Sain’s excellent report on Branson Landing in the July 18 Springfield News-Leader contains statements that illustrate some of the dilemmas faced by developers and local governments when planning a large project.

Branson’s aldermen (none of whom were in office when the Branson Landing project was approved for construction) have chosen to take $1.4 million from the city’s general fund and $1.2 million from the city’s transportation fund Read the rest of this entry

Branson lakefront deal goes from good to bad. Not what you’re thinking, though.


You know the story. The City of Branson gives a great deal to a private business to create an attraction on the Taneycomo lakefront. A few years later, the City doesn’t think the deal is working well for the City. The political winds have changed. Now there’s a lawsuit. Here’s how it went down, more than a half-century ago.

Jim Owen–not to be confused with the singer–played a major role in putting Branson on the tourism map. A consummate promoter of float fishing on the James and White rivers and tourism and commerce in the Branson area, he was unstoppable. Born in Webster County, Missouri (east of Springfield), he came to Branson in 1933, already experienced with public relations.

Soon Jim had built a movie theatre and started a float fishing business that got national attention and was also a banker and farmer. Some fine person posted this promotional silent film of one of his trips (11 minutes long) Read the rest of this entry

Branson Landing land titles: how soon we forget how it was just 10 years ago!


Pictures help to tell the story that lies underneath the disputed land titles at the north end of Branson Landing. You can click on these images to enlarge them. Here’s the 1913 plat of Park Addition to the City of Branson.

The southwest corner of the Belk building sits about where Sycamore Street joins what has been called St. Limas Street and Boxcar Willie Drive, now Branson Landing Boulevard. The platted lots in Block 4 of Park Addition were the location of resorts until construction of Branson Landing began. Mang Park, with a baseball diamond and swimming pool, occupied Read the rest of this entry

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