No Deposit, No Return, Just City Trasher-Type Slobs

Getting a state bottle-and-can-deposit law on the books seems to be a job for country folks; plus, other St. Louis follies and foibles

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No state legislature has passed a bottle bill in the last 10 years or so. Those who oppose such nickel- or dime-deposit impositions on each can or bottle say it's because those bills are no longer the best way to encourage recycling and discourage littering; curbside recycling is the thing. The other side will tell you no bill has passed because the beer-soda-supermarket interests spend boxcars full of cash on ad campaigns or to pay lobbyists to launch pre-emptive strikes against such bills.

All state Rep. Sam Gaskill (R-Washburn) knows is that a nice retired couple from Iowa moved into his southwestern-Missouri district, which borders Arkansas, and encouraged him to get a bottle bill passed that would help clean up all the broken glass and empty beverage containers littering McDonald County's streams and rivers. The couple said a bottle bill in Iowa helped clean up the scenery there. When Gaskill mentioned the bill to a group of 10 citizens he was drinking coffee with at a diner in Wheaton, they all backed the plan. Gaskill got a bill drafted and sent a memo out to his fellow representatives to see whether any wanted to sign on as co-sponsors. He got seven others to agree -- all from rural counties; not a city slicker among them. Most are from border counties along the Arkansas state line, and one is from Putnam County, adjacent to Iowa. The group comprised one Democrat, one independent and five Republicans. Gaskill got other feedback, too.

"The very same day I sent the memo, I was surprised how soon a lobbyist came in talking against it," says Gaskill. The lobbyist presented the usual objections, citing the added expense for stores and drink peddlers. Gaskill admits the bill is headed nowhere, diplomatically saying there's "not a real public move" to support it. Absent that, the consumption industry will hold the day. One of the co-sponsors, Rep. Estel Robirds (R-Theodosia) thinks that if such a bill were passed it would help solve the litter problem, because people would want the deposit back or somebody else would pick up after the careless for the nickel-and-dime payback. He also has a question for the beer-and-soda companies: ""What is your recommendation on this -- how are we going to keep the highways cleaned up?' If they want to oppose it, I want them to bring up something else. I live in the country, where we have a lot of highways; a lot of tourists come in. It's bottles and trash thrown out all the time." If HB 2042 were to pass, Robirds says, there would be "no need to have volunteers to have to pick all this stuff up. So the Klan would have to find something else to do."

But maybe Missourians just aren't as civilized as our neighbors to the north. Some people who tell Gaskill how well the system works in Iowa also say things are, well, different in Missouri.

"Just today I talked to somebody else about it, and they said it's different up there," Gaskill says. "Those people in Iowa, there's cleaner-looking farms up there. You don't have the city trasher-type slobs like we have down here coming down from the big cities for a weekend drunk to float the creeks or just raise hell in the country. In other words, there's more pride in Iowa and a general atmosphere about the land and appreciation of the countryside and its appearance."

By "big cities," Gaskill means Kansas City, St. Louis, even Springfield. The cans, bottles and broken glass collect in "low-water-bridge areas" in the "crystal-clear creeks" he says, posing problems. But even Missouri has at least one urban oasis of awareness and social responsibility. College town Columbia has had a nickel-deposit law since 1982. Gaskill says that happened because "it's more of a tree-hugger interest there, separate from the littering problem."

For city-trasher slobs, there is some hope. The Schnucks on the Hill, just west of Kingshighway on Arsenal Street, carries Busch, Budweiser and Bud Light in returnable bottles. Why? A Schnucks spokeswoman says it was the result of one customer's request. But even in that response, this spin was added: One-way bottles are popular, the spokeswoman says, because "most of our customers prefer not to make a double trip." Guess this means most Schnucks shoppers buy vittles there once and never return. They couldn't possibly return the bottles on their next trip to the store. This is yet another example of appetite being controlled by the available diet. If returnables aren't there, no one will buy them. On the other hand, if rural Republicans can't pass a bottle bill in this here Show-Me state, tree-huggers might contemplate a move to Columbia.

AS A PRESS RELEASE, IT WENT OVER LIKE A LEAD ZEPPELIN: The first sentence seemed surprisingly honest, but of course it was a mistake, not a confession. The press release from the mayor's office Friday began thusly: "Despite intense political posturing, Mayor Clarence Harmon took a major step forward today in his drive to hold the lead paint industry accountable for health problems associated with lead poisoning, a problem that disproportionately effects (sic) lower income children." OK, class, all together now: Can we say misplaced modifier?

Yes, it reads like Hizzoner was the one doing the "intense political posturing," but no, that's not what Harmonious spokesman Chuck Miller meant. He says others were doing the "intense political posturing," though they aren't mentioned in the release.

Never mind that Harmon was the one being accused of politics/business as usual, picking an old crony and current campaign contributor to handle the lead-paint suit over a more experienced law firm offering to do the work for less money. After some haggling, and posturing, the bid by John Frank's firm was changed to a payment of 18 percent of the settlement, reduced from 25 percent. The mayoral election is 12 months away.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE SWIMMER, BILL HAAS: Maybe becoming mayor of St. Louis is like trying to swim across Lake Erie. Not only it is hard to do, there's a lingering question of why anyone would want to do it. And just think of all that effort expended in a toxic environment. Well, Bill Haas once trained to swim Lake Erie, though he finally came to his senses and didn't launch a real attempt. As for running for mayor in St. Louis, Bill has not come to his senses. He's running again.

Haas thinks that this time he'll have company in addition to incumbent Mayor Clarence Harmon and Aldermanic President Francis Slay. Haas, alluding to conversations he's had with folks he won't name, believes former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. will jump into the mix. Bosley has repeatedly declined to rule out a run or to say he will run, and the rumor mill's output on the topic is decidedly mixed; some believe the ex-mayor is enjoying life away from City Hall, but others say the temptation to join a Harmon-Slay race would be hard for Bosley to resist. And if former Mayor Vince Schoemehl runs, imagine a debate featuring Harmon, Schoemehl, Slay, Bosley and Haas. The WWF could put it on local pay-for-view. But we digress -- the election isn't until the spring of 2001.

Since Haas lost his second attempt, in 1997, at becoming mayor, he's been elected to the school board, a thankless -- and payless -- job. He has tried to do things there and on occasion has done so, which is an achievement. His ninth-grade initiative trying to keep high-school kids from dropping out is a good effort.

Haas' campaign slogan is "Haas, Not Harmon." He has two bus ads up, posted on the Forest Park shuttle and the West Florissant route. Haas only got 1 percent of the vote in 1997, the last time he ran; in 1993 he got 15 percent. He says he has 10,000 pieces of literature to distribute. He wants to push for a civilian review board for police and affirmative action. Leave it to Haas, a white guy, to focus on those two issues.

"If I don't get to win this one, I'll try it again in 2005," says Haas. "I don't see how I have a shot with Freeman in the race; I really don't. I'm too dumb to know I can't win it. You can put that in." Consider it done.

NET FISCAL BENEFIT AND OTHER SCIENCE FICTIONS: Last week's strident defense by John Ferrara and County Executive Buzz Westfall of the economic sense of the $720 million of public funds that will go to pay off the financing for the Trans World Dome triggered a tale from Tom Villa, former state representative and aldermanic president. Now an aide to Mayor Clarence Harmon, Villa was at last week's aldermanic meeting and recounted the time when former Mayor Vince Schoemehl showed up at the home of his father, the legendary Ald. Red Villa, to push for the dome bill. Schoemehl went on and on about the concept of "net fiscal benefit" and how constructing the domed stadium downtown would trigger all manner of economic benefits, ranging from the lunches bought by construction workers to tourism dollars from traveling football fans. At the end of Schoemehl's song and dance, Tom recalls, his father looked up over his glasses and said, "Let's build two, Vince. It sounds like we're getting the first one for free."

Give us your feedback by e-mailing "Short Cuts" at [email protected] com, faxing 314-615-6716 or calling 314-615-6711.

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