If you held the fate of one of Missouri’s greatest natural treasures in your hands, what would you do with this power? Would you preserve the area for future generations? Or would you decide that it would better to pave it so that a few people didn’t have to drive as far in order to put their money in a slot machine?
On Tuesday, November 3, the St. Louis County Council had to decide whether or not to allow developers to build a casino, golf course and 8,000 parking spaces adjacent to the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. This is in the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi River, a unique ecosystem of spectacular beauty. For two and a half hours the council members listened to citizens speak out against the development proposal. They heard well reasoned arguments in opposition from every angle imaginable.
People explained how would the proposal would be an ecological disaster by damaging wildlife and increase area flooding. It would increase the poisons in the water intake system for the City of St. Louis. It would both kill and scare away birds that use the area for nesting and as part of their migration route. They reminded the council that no environmental impact study of what the development would do has been conducted.
Others explained how it would create no long term economic development for the region, and it would harm small businesses. They argued that the potential for eco-tourism to a natural, well preserved confluence far outweighs any short term economic gain that a casino may bring the area. They pointed out that the proposed development would greatly decrease the value of the adjacent Conservation Area, into which the State of Missouri has already invested $25 million.
People talked about how casinos encourage gambling additions, they increase the divorce rate, they increase the crime rate, they lead folks into a life of desperation and despair. People came up to state their moral objection to their plan on religious grounds. People testified to the wonderful experiences they have had in the unique area of the Missouri-Mississippi confluence.
After all these arguments, as if they had never been made, St. Louis County Council members Michael O’Mara, Hazel Erby, Steven Stenger and Kathleen Burkett voted to rezone the land and allow the casino to be built. Only council members Barbara Frasier and Gregory Quinn had the sense to vote against the proposal.
In a way, a casino is a fitting structure to put on the last undeveloped area in St. Louis County near the Missouri River. For the last three decades the council has rolled the dice time and time again, permitting the destruction of more and more wild areas and farms in order to allow more and more development. Much of this development has been in floodplains on some of the richest soil in the nation. Under the mantra of growth at any cost, the county has promoted a sprawling, automobile dependent region. They have been gambling that there will always be people to live in the new homes and shop in the new strip malls. They have been gambling that the oil will always be cheap and plentiful. They have been gambling that 1993 was a fluke - that the area will never flood again, that levees are a reasonable replacement for sound ecological management.
Like all gamblers, in the long run the St. Louis County Council will lose and lose big. Unfortunately, when these gamblers lose, there are no winners. We all lose. Fortunately for the Missouri-Mississippi confluence, while the area has been rezoned, no development has yet been built. We need to show these politicians that all development is NOT good development. We need to stop this casino.