Blight Me!

7 08 2012
Taking care of business: A politically-connected rehabber scores a 10-year property tax break by expanding his law offices.   
Joseph V. Neill’s law office on Hampton Avenue in June 2011. In May, 16th-Ward Ald. Donna Baringer called for the property to be blighted, making it eligible for a 10-year tax abatement.

by Will Delaney

Attorney Joseph V. Neill, a member of the St. Louis police pension board appointed by Mayor Francis Slay, will receive up to a 10-year tax abatement for rehabbing his law office on Hampton Avenue, according to a bill filed in the Board of Aldermen.

“Blighted.”

On May 22, an ordinance introduced  by 16th-Ward Ald. Donna Baringer blighted Neill’s property, thereby creating a redevelopment area.  Under the law, blighting the property for redevelopment is in the  “interest of the public health, safety, morals and general welfare of the people of the city.”

In this case, blighting is also in the interest of the property owner,  JVN & Company, a limited liability corporation set up by Neill in 2009, which also includes four other attorneys that practice law at 5201 Hampton.

Baringer defends her legislation by saying that it is for the common good.

“The 16th Ward’s business district is 50 years old and in need of assistance for the deteriorating buildings,” Baringer told the Journal of Decomposition. “Joe Neill  has been active in our neighborhood for many years and is liked and respected. I took this piece of legislation before the St. Louis [Hills] Neighborhood Association before introducing it, and they had voted in favor of it.”

Records on file with the St. Louis Assessor’s Office  show JVN & Company  paid $7,440.33 in annual property taxes in November 2011. Under the terms of the proposed abatement, the commercial property will be frozen at its pre-improved assessed value  of  $84,100 for the next decade.  

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Party Boy

29 07 2012
Mardi Gras reveller Stacy Hastie and his pals opened their wallets to Mayor Slay and then cleaned up with a windfall in state brownfields tax credits.

by Will Delaney                                                                             

CPA  and environmental clean-up expert Stacy Hastie toasting the good life.

The Facebook photo shows St. Louis businessman Stacy Hastie quaffing a beer at a party. Two bottles of Jagermeister can be seen sitting on the counter in the background along with other liquor and wine. It may not be the most flattering image, but it appears to capture a certain panache of a man who enjoys the full pleasures of life. Other online snapshots show the chairman and chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Environmental Operations Inc. reigning over the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball at City Hall in February. He donned a crown and regal robe for that occasion.

Obviously, Hastie knows how to party. He’s been at it a long time. And partying – with the right people – is a way of establishing and maintaining connections in the hazy world where business and politics merge.

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See No Evil

18 07 2012

St. Louis Forestry Division Commissioner Greg Hayes turns a blind eye to his agency’s clandestine landfill in Carondelet Park.

By Bill Newmann

“A man should look for what is and not for what he thinks should be.”Albert Einstein

Forestry boss Greg Hayes says this dump doesn’t exist.

By all appearances there is a landfill craftily tucked within the trees at the St. Louis compost facility in Carondelet Park. But according to the city official in charge of the site, the dump  doesn’t exist.

On Monday, St. Louis Forestry Division Commissioner Greg Hayes denied the dump site’s existence, which was first reported by the The Journal of Decomposition last week [What a Dump!, July 10].

Hayes’ denial comes on the heels of a response from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that draws into question the legality of Forestry’s  Carondelet Park landfill. In a response to a request under the Missouri Sunshine Law, DNR verified that none of the required state permits have been issued for the unacknowledged dump.  DNR is the state agency that regulates solid waste disposal.

Renee Bungart, DNR’s public information officer, was unavailable for comment earlier this week regarding the department’s policy on investigating illegal landfills.

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What a Dump!

10 07 2012

City officials deny illegal dumping in Carondelet Park. The clearing in the background is the location of the alleged illegal landfill.

Cloaked by a grove of trees just beyond public view at the  free-compost site in Carondelet Park, the city Forestry Division is covering up its real dirty work.

by Bill Newmann

With the first bloom of the crocus, the foragers begin to descend on the southeast corner of Carondelet Park with shovels and pitchforks in hand.  Among the gardening set, a visit to the South St. Louis compost pile is a rite of spring.

The pilgrimages, which continue throughout the growing season, have the down-to-earth purpose of adding soil nutrients to front yard rose beds and backyard tomato patches.  Not surprisingly, urban gardeners and  landscapers who participate in this humble ritual have long showered perennial praise on the St. Louis Forestry Division for the free compost and mulch it offers.

There is a dark side to Forestry’s green image, however.

The free compost – tons of it – is littered with every kind of trash imaginable. A stench fills the air next to a fetid clump of trash that has accumulated under a piece of heavy machinery.  Nearby, a green flip-flop protrudes from one compost pile. A hairbrush lies next to another.  Besides the abandoned footwear and the filthy article of grooming, there are countless fast-food containers, Styrofoam cups, plastic water bottles, and aluminum cans.

But the trash isn’t limited to the compost heaps.

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The One that Got Away

7 07 2012

A federal sting snares the mayor of St. Gabriel, Louisiana in a trashy scam and  links him to a St. Louis con artist who remains on the lam.  

by Will Delaney

As it meanders toward the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River slows and bunches together as if trying to delay the inevitable. The lingering creates a closer bond with the land. St. Gabriel, Louisiana, a sleepy Delta town of 6,600, hugs one of the river’s many serpentine bends south of Baton Rouge. The burg is located in Iberville Parish, the heart of Cajun country, but two thirds of its population is African American. And nearly one quarter of the inhabitants live below the poverty level. The town is noted for being the location of two state prisons, which house more than 2,700 inmates. The other major employer in the area is the petrol-chemical industry. With the exception of Slay Transportation, which has a truck terminal in St. Gabriel, there are few ties to St. Louis, a Midwestern city more than 600 miles to the north.

But that was before Igor Grushewsky came to town.

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Double Trouble

25 06 2012

When it comes to turning trees into mulch Patrick Geraty finds two companies are better than one

by Bill Newmann

Agricycle, Inc., a company with close ties to the holder of a lucrative city composting contract, is responsible for cutting down a large swath of St. Louis County’s dwindling woodlands in recent years, the Journal of Decomposition has learned.

Patrick T. Geraty of Kirkwood owns both Agricycle and St. Louis Composting, Inc., which took over the St. Louis Forestry Division’s municipal composting operation in 2009.  Though incorporated separately, the two companies are in essence branches of the same operation.

St. Louis Composting and Agricycle’s joint site in Valley Park

St. Louis Composting, which has the higher profile of the pair, rakes in an estimated $12 million annually, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, processing more than 500 million cubic yards of municipal organic waste, including St. Louis city street trees.  Meanwhile out in the burbs, Agricycle, the quieter sister company, gains its lucre by clear cutting more than 500 acres yearly for developers, according to an industry source.

Geraty founded St. Louis Composting in 1992, the same year that a new Missouri law banned yard waste from landfills.  Contrary to its name, however, the company was incorporated in Illinois, and originally included a trio of corporate directors from the Chicago area.  Three years later, Geraty incorporated Agricycle in Missouri.  Both companies share the same address: 39 Old Elam Avenue, which is next to a landfill in Valley Park, a suburban town in southwest St. Louis County.  Most of the companies’ other sites are located on or near former landfills.

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The Sunny Side of the Street

18 06 2012

The alleged Center of the Universe

A walk down Chippewa sheds light on St. Louis Forestry’s policies and practices

by Will Delaney

The Donut Drive-In, at Watson and Chippewa, is a Route 66 landmark and the alleged Center of the Universe. To be accurate, the Center of the Universe is thought by some to be inside the hole of one of the millions of glazed donuts that the shop has deep-fried here since 1954. But there is a lack of consensus among quantum physicists as to which hole that might be. The continuing enigma is an inexplicable leftover of the Cold War, steeped in hot grease and shrouded in secrecy.

Theorists postulate that the portal into the void may have passed decades ago, running its course through the digestive tract of an unsuspecting southsider, or it could very well be in the next batch of glazed delicacies to come out of the fryer. To be on the safe side, I ordered a couple of custard-filled pastries instead. They don’t have holes. I am normally less cautious, but recent events, which I attribute to the approaching summer solstice, have raised my guard. Under current karmic conditions, it was too early in the day to risk being swept into the vortex of a freaky donut hole that defies scientific explanation.

I ate breakfast in the asphalt parking lot, leaning against the west-facing wall of the concrete-block building, a location chosen not for its scenic view of the nearby car wash, but spurred  by extreme solar conditions, which by 10 a.m. were already turning city streets into a blast furnace.

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