Smelterville

Crystal City forges one hell of a deal.

"Everyone had their specialty," recalls Thomas. "Some of us walked door to door informing neighbors. Others examined our legal options, while some of us began searching for any public documents related to the project." E-mails received from the city through Sunshine Law requests revealed the city was in discussion with Kennedy since at least March 2006 — a full eighteen months before news of the smelter first broke.

Soon Jack Ginnever had a Web site (clearpillar.com) up and running, with contracts, lease agreements and all other documents making their way onto the Internet. The group filmed city council meetings and posted the video clips online as a way of holding city officials to their word. When the mayor and other council members refused to talk about the smelter, the group went looking for answers elsewhere.

In one memorable clip aired on the C4 Web site, the group travels to Granite City, Illinois, to ask residents what it's like living next to the steel works. The video shows slag piles of iron-ore waste stacked 100 feet high and nearby homes blanketed in fine black soot. When asked to describe the smell of the smelter, an elderly Granite City resident thinks for a moment before replying to the camera: "You ever eat pickled eggs and then drink a lot of beer? Well, it smells worse than them kind of farts."

Hot seat: Mayor Tom Schilly often finds himself defending the smelter.
Hot seat: Mayor Tom Schilly often finds himself defending the smelter.
Nina Abboud and her husband Jim Kennedy don't see what all the fuss is about.
Nina Abboud and her husband Jim Kennedy don't see what all the fuss is about.

"I'm not running from anyone," says an embattled Mayor Tom Schilly. "I fear no man."

Still, the mayor can't help but bristle at some of C4's most recent actions. In November the group filed a lawsuit, alleging that the mayor and the city council violated state Sunshine Law in its closed-door meetings with Jim Kennedy. The latest indignity occurred just last month when C4 installed two gigantic billboards on Interstate 55 urging city voters to recall the mayor and six council members who've lent their support to the smelter.

Schilly points out that many C4 members aren't residents of Crystal City, including Tom Kerr, who lives just south of town in unincorporated Jefferson County. "That doesn't mean I don't listen to them. But no matter how you answer their questions you get beat up over it," laments Schilly. "You just can't prevail."

A welder by trade, Schilly leaves home each weekday morning by 5:20 a.m. to get to his job in Dupo, Illinois, by 6 a.m. By late afternoon he's back in Crystal City and ready to clock in at city hall. Prior to becoming mayor 6 years ago, he served on the city council for 16 years. During that stretch Schilly admits that nothing has divided the city — or caused him as much consternation — as the smelter.

"You have to want to do this job," posits Schilly, who earns just $315 a month as Crystal City's top elected official. "But I wouldn't do it if I didn't like it. My rule is this: If you keep the interests of the community in mind, you'll do OK."

Schilly says he followed that same creed when first presented the idea for the smelter. "For years, the number-one thing constituents have asked me about is when are we going to do something with the PPG property," he says. It wasn't until this past May, however, that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources declared that the PPG land — contaminated with arsenic, lead and chromium — was once again safe for non-residential development. "That land was industrial for 100 years," notes Schilly, "and it remains zoned industrial."

Moreover, Schilly believes the smelter will bring much-needed jobs to Crystal City. Like other longtime residents, the mayor remembers when nearly everyone in town worked for PPG. Today most of the town's residents — like the mayor himself — must leave Jefferson County for full-time employment. And if Crystal City wants to continue to provide its residents with the services they've come to expect — leaf pickup and quality streets and water — Schilly says the town needs to increase its general revenue, which collected just over $3 million last year. The smelter, according to Kennedy's data, could add another $500,000 in yearly taxes for the city.

With that in mind, on September 10 Crystal City officials entered into a lease agreement in which the city would purchase the PPG property for $2.2 million and immediately lease the land to Wings Enterprises for the smelter. Schilly says the deal allows the city to take control of 250 acres of prime real estate for nothing, with Wings' lease covering the entire $2.2 million purchase cost. Members of C4 note that the contract will have Wings paying the city less than $100 per acre annually over the course of the 100-year lease.

On October 8, C4 was granted permission to make its case before the city council. Cheered on by more than 100 C4 members who attended the meeting, Jill Thomas questioned why the council did not consider Tom Kerr's substantially more lucrative offer of $5.4 million for the PPG property. Thomas further revealed Kennedy's finances for the project — including the $300 million offer from Minmetals — and presented e-mails from Crystal City building commissioner Bob French that suggested Bill Bradley's property, Hug's Farm, would also be part of the smelter project.

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