Lore or Lie?

6 03 2013

The Osage Nation is staking a claim to a St. Louis prehistoric landmark. But a renegade has reservations about his tribe’s right to the land.

by Bill Newmann

Mayor Slay and Jim Gray in 2004

Mayor Slay and Jim Gray in 2004

Clinging to the Mississippi River bluffs, the bungalow atop Sugarloaf Mound has lain vacant for three years, its boarded windows staring out across Ohio Avenue at a hill littered with debris from Interstate 55. Truck drivers roll down the street and commuters accelerate up the entrance ramp.

None of them seem to notice the ancient wonder.

Unknown to most St. Louisans, Sugarloaf Mound is a portal to the prehistoric past, when dozens of earthen mounds stood within the current city limits. Native civilizations that vanished centuries ago built these landmarks, earning the Gateway City its previous title – Mound City. Nevertheless, by the time of the 1904 World’s Fair, the mounds had been destroyed by urban expansion. Sugarloaf, the last mound standing, survived mainly due to its relative isolation.

When the Osage Nation – a sovereign Native American tribe based in Oklahoma – bought a piece of Sugarloaf for nearly a quarter million dollars in 2009, the St. Louis media praised the purchase as a preservation victory. But the tribe itself remains divided over the issue, including skeptics who continue to question the deal and the well-connected players who worked behind the scenes to put it together.  

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Got Sewage?

30 08 2012

St. Louis Composting’s Patrick Geraty hooks up with a national syndicate that peddles sewage. 

by Bill Newmann

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” – Arthur Conan Doyle 

I have learned in the past that if you don’t have a seat at the table, you can be on the menu,” says Patrick Geraty, owner of St. Louis Composting Inc., the region’s largest commercial composter.

Geraty made the revealing comment to the board of directors of the U.S. Composting Council (USCC) late last year.  As part of his pitch to gain a board seat, Geraty also proposed adopting an advertising blitz similar to the now-famous mantra: “Got Milk?

The St. Louis businessman’s proposition is part of a recurring public relations barrage aimed at cleaning up an industry image sullied by its involvement in the toxic waste trade.

Geraty now dines at both the tables of the USCC and its governmental counterpart, the Missouri Solid Waste Advisory Board. The private and public agencies regulate wood waste – St. Louis Composting’s main raw material. But they also regulate another waste that’s being incorporated into compost with increasing frequency: sewage sludge.

Sewage sludge is raw sewage minus water. Raw sewage is everything that gets flushed down toilets and drains, including household, industrial, and medical wastes. Water-treatment plants collect raw sewage, and their main goal is to recover as much clean water as possible for reuse. The leftovers form a concentrated, toxic stew.

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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.


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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