Senators throw life jacket to lake residents

A life jacket — and some muscle — flew all the way Thursday from Washington  to the Lake of the Ozarks.

The two U.S. senators from Missouri teamed up with legislation aimed at  stopping the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from enforcing its order to  remove an estimated 1,260 lake residences, some in the million-dollar range. “Did they really think somebody was going to go in there and tear down all  those homes?” asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat. “This was  ridiculous.” A sentiment shared, in a rare blip of Washington bipartisanship, by her  Republican counterpart, Sen. Roy Blunt. “An example of another federal agency acting as if common sense has been  thrown out the window,” Blunt called it.

The homes, along with 3,000 or so decks and gazebos, recently were discovered  as violating a buffer zone owned by the utility company that operates Bagnell  Dam. The “removal” news shocked and outraged owners. They had permits and deeds.  They’d paid taxes for years on the houses, some of which had been in families  for generations. The thought of losing them, along with retirement and  investment savings, brought many sleepless nights.

“I’m in tears,” Martha Sharp said Thursday when told of the senators’ action.  Her home sits in Lake Valley in Camdenton at the 14-mile marker on the arm of  the Big Niangua. “We had a grandchild today and now this! What a great day. We’ve been so  worried — like everyone,” she said. “To have this hanging over you all this time … You just can’t imagine what that’s like.”

No one from FERC could be reached for comment.

Officials blamed the years-in-the-making mess on lack of red tape. The lake  developed in a hurry. The recorder of deeds for Camden County said corners were  cut, banks didn’t require surveys, nobody asked about setbacks. The lack of oversight meant a lot of homes got built below an elevation-based  contour line around the lake’s perimeter. That line set the easement of Ameren  Missouri, the utility company that operates the  Osage Hydroelectric  Project. The discovery came when Ameren filed a new shoreline management plan with  FERC as part of its relicensing to operate the dam. In its subsequent order, FERC said the homes should be “removed in a timely  manner.”

Letters then went out to homeowners from Ameren: “While at present we do not  plan to take any adverse action respecting your residence, we can give you no  assurances to the future.” Ameren also asked FERC for a rehearing to reconsider its order. That request  is pending.

Homeowners organized a petition drive, and some hired lawyers. But hundreds  of trials would have meant years in litigation. Meantime, the cloud meant homes  could not be sold or left to offspring. And owners worried that making needed  repairs would just be a waste of money. As one said, “If Ameren owns it, let them fix the roof and pay the  taxes.”

The measure by McCaskill and Blunt would amend the Federal Power Act by  prohibiting FERC from requiring the removal of existing structures, unless it  could be proven that the owner acted in bad faith, that is, they built their  structure fully knowing it violated the restricted area.

If FERC drops its action, the proposed legislation would drop as well. Either way, lake owners are happy.

“This has gone on for so long, I don’t know what to think,” Russell “Sparky” Sharp, Martha’s husband, said Thursday. “But I’ll tell you this, there’s got to  be a lot of happy people down here today.” Count neighbor Joyce Hudson as one. She’d been trying to sell her home, but  pulled it off the market because of the ownership flap. “Maybe tonight I’ll finally sleep,” she said Thursday.

Article as seen on the Kansas City Star Newspaper

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