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I’m confused…you can’t have it both ways

Posted on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 9:33 am

Lincoln County Presiding Commissioner Dan Colbert submitted a letter to the editor (located on page 5) to The Elsberry Democrat this week in which he referenced an article in last week’s newspaper titled ‘Lakeview project a smelly mess’.

Colbert said he believes that the article was written from a perspective that “largely reflects knowledge gleaned only in recent months” and that this “is a disservice to readers in light of the fact that there has been an issue with sewage at Lakeview for at least 15 years, if not more.”

Colbert accused The Elsberry Democrat of making the inaccurate implication that raw sewage in Lakeview was a recent problem and the result of negligence on the part of engineers or contractors.

Colbert wrapped up his letter by encouraging Lakeview residents to contact him directly so that they can work together to finish what he describes as a “worthwhile project” and once again stating his disappointment with The Elsberry Democrat for what he described as “casting a negative light on a positive project.”

I’m sure Commissioner Colbert now feels quite satisfied with himself having put us in our place so eloquently.

However, in my opinion Colbert’s arguments are lacking when it comes to logic and reasoning.

In the June 4 article that Colbert takes so much issue with, he is quoted as saying the following: “I was made aware of some gray water lines about a month ago. It’s not sewage or human waste that they’re contending with. In the process of doing the sewer installation the contractor came to us and told us there were lines with gray water and that’s a problem that we’re trying to devise a solution for.”

Colbert went on to say in that same article that while he fully intends to work with the engineers to find a solution to this problem he wants Lakeview residents to understand that the original grant money for the project is currently tapped out, which means that any additional cost that is incurred as a result of sewer water issues will be passed on to the homeowners.

This is illustrative of Colbert’s obvious problems with short-term memory.
How can an elected official go on the record with our newspaper one week and say that the residents of Lakeview are not contending with sewage or human waste, but rather gray water lines, and then barely seven days later make a statement in a letter to the editor that “raw sewage has been discharging on the ground from Lakeview Subdivision at multiple locations for many years?”

Colbert can’t have it both ways.

Either it’s raw sewage or it isn’t.

Additionally, Colbert’s statement that The Elsberry Democrat’s “implication that raw sewage in this location is somehow a recent problem and the result of negligence on the part of engineers or contractors is inaccurate” is in direct contrast to the findings published in a report by Paul Mueller of the St. Louis Regional Office of the Department of Natural Resources.

That report is summarized in today’s edition of The Elsberry Democrat and a copy of such was provided to Colbert by Mueller himself.

In his findings Mueller states that Wehmeyer Farms, Inc. willfully or negligently failed to repair the existing wastewater collection lines and private treatment systems after knowingly damaging the system.

Also, Colbert’s statement that “there has been an issue with sewage at Lakeview for at least 15 years, if not more” leads me to wonder why he said during a telephone interview with me for the June 4 article that he had first been made aware of the issue about a month ago.

Once again, Colbert can’t have it both ways.

Either he has known for a month or for 15 years.

My next point of contention with Colbert’s letter to the editor is that he states he “was not aware of any sewage on the ground beyond the aforementioned areas until he received a call from Mr. [Tim] Hurley at 72 Lakeview on the afternoon of June 5, 2014.”

This is probably the statement that confuses me the most because I personally called Commissioner Colbert on June 2 to get his take on the issues at Lakeview in preparation for my June 4 article.

During that phone conversation I informed Colbert that I had been receiving complaints from Lakeview residents and that I had taken a number of pictures showing the sewer damage in the subdivision.

I also informed him that I had seen Hurley’s yard and photographed the damage.

Furthermore, I offered to provide Colbert with copies of my pictures and to assist him additionally in any way that I could.

Colbert refused my pictures and my offer to provide any additional assistance and stated that he was aware of the situation in Lakeview and had been for some time.

He also stated that he didn’t really feel that a story existed at all and he couldn’t understand why I was writing about anything in Lakeview because none of it was news anyway.

For Colbert to brush aside my information on June 2 and then claim in his letter to the editor that he was not made aware of any new problems in Lakeview until June 5 is something that I simply cannot accept.

In addition, Colbert claims to have coordinated with the contractor and remedied the situation within 24 hours and his pledge to address any subsequent issues that are brought to his attention in the same manner is in stark contrast to his statement in the June 4 article that he would try to work with the engineers to find a solution to the problem but that the cost of such a solution would be passed on to the homeowners.

As for Colbert’s assertion that The Elsberry Democrat failed to take into account the history of the problem and that this was apparent in the front page photo of the four gentlemen staring quizzically at an area where sewage has discharged for many years as if it were something new, I can only say that I was physically present on May 30, the day that Elsberry Mayor Terry Martin called in the representatives from DNR and asked them to come out and investigate the reported problems at Lakeview.

When those gentlemen arrived, that “area where sewage has discharged for many years” was one of the first things that they asked to see and one of the first places that Martin and Alliance Manager Marshall Suddarth took them to.

If Colbert has a problem with that area being surveyed by representatives of DNR or any of Elsberry’s city officials then he should take that up with them.

Obviously the area was of some importance to them, however, or they would not have been so keen to view it.

In summary, Colbert’s claim that my article has cast a negative light on a positive project that represents years of effort on the part of many is not only self-serving but it is also incredibly obtuse.

The June 4 article in no way disparaged any of the previous work that had been done in the Lakeview Subdivision.

Rather, I simply reported on the fact that there had been recent damage done to existing septic systems and that many Lakeview residents were suffering as a result.

It should also be noted that those residents contacted the paper directly in order to voice their complaints and to draw public attention to the matter.

The journalistic efforts employed by The Elsberry Democrat in response to these calls and complaints are an example of the positive impact that the press can have in educating the public and helping to rally members of the community in order to address problems.

The fact that Colbert was so resistant to our coverage of this issue initially and that he has now criticized us for writing about it after the fact makes me wonder if he really has the best interests of the Lakeview residents at heart or whether he is simply focused on damage control in much the same manner that any other professional politician would be.

Adam Presswood, Reporter/Photographer for The Elsberry Democrat