Details as to why outgoing Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley decided to give $12.5 million of the state’s settlement with Republic Services to the St. Louis Community Foundation remain a state secret — because nobody’s talking.
St. Louis Community Foundation CEO Amelia Bond says she doesn’t know why outgoing Republican Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley handed over $12.5 million of the state’s settlement with the Republic Services to the charity she heads.
“I can’t speak to why. You’ll have to ask the attorney general’s office,” Bond says. The foundation CEO then shifted the conversation and began reciting a litany of laurels about the non-profit organization’s other charitable work.
Bond was on hand Tuesday morning at the Bridgeton Recreation Center for the first of a series of forums that will be held this week and next to discuss how best to use the money for community betterment in the vicinity of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Superfund site in North St. Louis County, which is owned by Republic Services.
The Office of the Missouri Attorney General first informed the St. Louis Community Foundation of its decision to consider awarding the majority of the $16-million lawsuit settlement to the charity in May, says Maria G. Bradford, the foundation’s director of community engagement.
Bradford also denied knowledge of why the state attorney general made the unusual decision to transfer the public funds to the non-governmental foundation. She too referred questions related to the terms of the settlement to Hawley’s office. The office of the attorney general has repeatedly declined to answer those questions in the past.
Under the terms of the brokered deal, the charity will oversee the specially created Bridgeton Landfill Community Project Fund, which will dole out grants to qualified non-profits to address environmental, public health and safety issues within a four-mile radius of the landfill site, where nuclear waste leftover from the Manhattan Project was dumped illegally in 1973.
Though not unprecedented, Bond says to her knowledge there are only a few other cases in which the Office of the Missouri Attorney General has designated the St. Louis Community Foundation to act as its fiduciary. In those rare instances, the amount of public money placed under the foundation’s control was much smaller than the $12.5 million that was part of the deal Hawley cut with Republic Services.
Bond is married to Arthur Bond III, the nephew of former U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri. In 2016-2017, Kit Bond Strategies, the lobbying firm headed by the former senator, was paid $230, 000 to represent the interests of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, including congressional lobbying efforts to turn over the West Lake clean up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That effort failed. The Partnership is a joint agency of the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County set up to promote economic growth by melding private and public interests. It is not directly connected to the activities of the St. Louis Community Foundation.
But there is an indirect connection between the two organizations. Kit Bond, the founder of Kit Bond Strategies, has served on the board of directors of the St. Louis Community Foundation. However, Amelia Bond, a well-qualified investment banker, says she was hired to lead the St. Louis Community Foundation prior to Kit Bond joining the board of directors of the charity, and that her relationship to the senator did not play a role in her being named CEO of the foundation.
About 40 people were present at the kick off event at the Bridgeton Recreation Center. Attendees included residents, community advocates and municipal officials, including Bridgeton Mayor Terry Briggs, Councilman Ferd Fetsch, and Police Chief Don Hood.
The agreement announced in June, closed the book on five years of litigation conducted mainly behind closed doors between the state of Missouri and the trash company, which owns both the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill and adjacent West Lake Lake Landfill that is contaminated with radioactive waste.
Then-Attorney General Kris Koster filed the suit against Bridgeton Landfill and Republic Services, its parent company, on behalf of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 2013,
asserting violations of the law by Republic Services that caused harm to the environment and human health. The case continued after Hawley took office last year. Hawley, now U.S. Senator-elect, will leave his state post for Washington in January. Gov. Mike Parson, who was installed as Missouri’s chief executive after Gov. Eric Grietens resigned in June, has appointed Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt to take Hawley’s place. Schmitt is a partner in Lathrop & Gage, a law firm that represents Republic Services.
The agreement required Republic to reimburse MDNR for $2 million in staff time, pay a civil penalty of $1 million and $500,000 for damages to the state’s natural resources. The corporation is also required to monitor air and groundwater under state supervision contingent upon obtaining $26 million in bond funding.
But three-quarters of the settlement will be put into money market accounts exclusively handled by the St. Louis Community Foundation — which was not a party to the suit and does not have a depth of experience in environmental protection issues.
The final clean up plan by the U.S. EPA, which carries an estimated price tag of more than $200 million, was announced in late September. That compromise decision calls for the partial removal of the radioactively-contaminated materials from the site, leaving the remaining waste to continue leaking into the groundwater of the Missouri River. Making matters worse, acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last week officially downgraded the urgency of cleaning up the West Lake Superfund site, which will further delay remediation.
Current efforts by the St. Louis Community Foundation on behalf of the office of the state attorney general to address ancillary issues and allegedly bring healing to residents of the impacted area seem premature given that not a single shovelful of radioactively-contaminated dirt has yet to be removed from the long-neglected site.
During a break in the meeting, Dawn Chapman, who has led community efforts to address the landfill problem for years, expressed frustration in the latest turn of events. “It seems like they’re putting the cart before the horse,” she says.
Bradford also denied knowledge how and and why Missouri Attorney General Hawley made the unusual decision to transfer