Jackson annexation may be decided in Tuesday's vote

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tuesday's voting could bring a resolution to an issue that has divided Jackson for months. But neither side of the campaign over an annexation ballot measure expressed confidence that they'd win.

On Tuesday, Jackson voters will be asked to decide whether to allow the city to annex a Fruitland quarry owned by Heartland Materials. The potential annexation has been met with criticism and a lawsuit questioning its legality. Critics have raised questions about the fairness of letting Jackson voters decide the fate of the people who live near the quarry but do not get to vote. Meanwhile supporters say the annexation is part of Jackson's orderly growth and will bring extra revenue into the city coffers.

Dozens of people who oppose the annexation filled Jackson's council chamber Jan. 17 to voice their concerns. Several people feared the quarry is not environmentally friendly and told the board of aldermen that the water in Hubble Creek was murky because of the quarry.

But despite attending Jackson Board of Aldermen meetings and getting 585 Jackson residents to sign a petition against annexation, Ken Leimbach said he is uncertain what voters will decide Tuesday.

"I feel it has a good chance to go either way," Leimbach said. "We know that there are quite a few people for and against this. It's in God's hands now."

Leimbach has been the vocal in his opposition, voicing his concerns in any forum he could. Leimbach, who lives in Jackson, said he opposes annexation because it would cripple Fruitland's ability to incorporate and stifle the community's autonomy.

"It's the moral thing to do to let the people out at Fruitland work out things in their own neighborhood," he said. "Jackson does not belong out there."

Gene Penzel believes the city does belong at the quarry.

Annexation of the quarry could be a financial boon for Jackson, said Penzel, who heads up Citizens for the Growth of Jackson, a group that's organized and spent money to persuade voters to cast ballots in favor of annexation. The presence of Heartland Materials would provide up to 10 more jobs for the city.

"Jackson is good for business," Penzel said. "It makes sense that people would vote for this."

Supporters of the annexation have said that some of Missouri's best limestone is in the quarry and that Heartland Materials' presence at the quarry has had no adverse effects on the environment.

Citizens for the Growth of Jackson raised $4,000 in donations and put advertisements in the Southeast Missourian and the Cash Book Journal, and mailed voters a letter about why they should vote for annexation.

Despite the effort, Penzel said he knows that many people are against annexation and the vote could go either way.

But whatever voters decide Tuesday regarding the proposed annexation won't matter if a lawsuit filed Thursday is successful.

The lawsuit says Jackson illegally annexed a portion of land along Interstate 55 and U.S. 61 in 2009. Attorney General Chris Koster gave the lawsuit his blessing by granting its filers the status of "quo warranto," which means they are essentially acting on the state's behalf. Leimbach is one of the filers.

Koster's blessing is not necessarily an endorsement, but acknowledges that there is enough of a question to proceed, said John Cook, a lawyer who is listed on the lawsuit along with eight others.

Jackson has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit before a hearing is set.

Mayor Barbara Lohr declined to comment Sunday on how she thinks the annexation issue will fair on the ballot.

Instead, she urged voters to get to the polls because the annexation issue is an important one.

Jackson has 13,005 registered voters who vote at its precincts, according to precinct voter count data from the Cape Girardeau County Commission. Of the registered voters, 95 percent are considered "active," according to the statistics. People who have not voted recently or have an invalid mailing address are considered "inactive."

The Missouri presidential primary will also be held Tuesday.

psullivan@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Jackson, MO

Fruitland, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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