Stan Salva: Longtime political force in Sugar Creek stood his ground says goodbye

Friends and admirers of Stan Salva, longtime Sugar Creek mayor and alderman, filled the Mike Onka Memorial Building last week for a reception in his honor.

The choice of venue was apt.

It was the same community center where residents had gathered to debate, sometimes emotionally, initiatives that Salva had backed during his 30 years as alderman or mayor of Sugar Creek, a city of roughly 3,400 people north of Independence.

In 1993, as an alderman, Salva stood up in a crowded Onka building to explain the city’s efforts to obtain a state permit for a new landfill. Opponents thought the project posed a threat to the eastern Jackson County water supply.

In 2008, area residents filled the building four times to protest a proposed expansion of underground limestone mining. Although Salva backed the expansion, many area residents blamed a nearby mining operation under an Independence golf course for dust, blasting vibrations and a lower quality of life.

Both projects went forward.

The Courtney Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility received a state permit in 1995, and the underground limestone mining expansion began in 2010. Salva said he defended both initiatives because they represented diverse revenue sources for the small community.

“Today we have a general fund reserve that is as good or better than any city in Missouri,” he said.

Salva’s years of public service ended in April, when he lost a re-election bid to the city’s new mayor, Matt Mallinson.

But his challenges over 16 years as alderman and 14 years as mayor include many that he believed were vital to his community’s economic viability. They also included the closing of the Amoco Oil refinery and the environmental remediation of the refinery site for years afterward.

Voters first sent Salva to the city’s Board of Alderman in 1979, so he was among those city officials trying to respond to the 1982 closing of the refinery which, since 1904, had served as the community’s economic and emotional anchor. At the time, the refinery generated more than half of the small city’s revenues.

The city, in response turned off half its street lights.

“It was amazing what we had to do to keep our head above water back then,” Salva said.

He represented the city’s 2nd Ward for eight years. He later purchased a home in the 1st Ward. He ran again for the board in 199, and 1st Ward voters elected him.

He soon served as the city’s point man in Sugar Creek’s efforts to gain the state landfill permit. Salva defended the facility’s safeguards, which included an elaborate system of liners that would keep seepage from migrating off the site.

Not everyone was convinced, Salva said. Those opposed included his own father, John.

“That was probably the only thing in my entire life that my father and I disagreed on,’ said Salva.

“But by the time he passed away in 1998, I think he finally understood how, with today’s technology, it was going to be safe.”

Salva believes the performance of the landfill since has supported his original stance.

“I feel vindicated,” he said.

In 2008 Salva received the David Garcia Award for Environmenal Excellence from Bridging the Gap. The Kansas City environmental education organization saluted Salva for several efforts, among them encouraging the use of methane gas from landfills to offset the use of the use of coal at the cement kiln being operated in Sugar Creek by the Lafarge Corp. construction materials company, leading to a reduction in air pollution.

In the late 1990s, former mayor Charles Dumsky chose not to file for re-election and asked Salva to consider running.

Salva did and was elected in 1999.

Among his innovations was a bullet point near the top of every meeting agenda of the city’s Board of Aldermen representing his summary of recent correspondence with Amoco Oil Co. which became, following a series of corporate acquisitions, BP Products North America Inc., or BP.

The remediation and redevelopment of the approximately 450 acres of the former refinery site dominated Sugar Creek dialogue for years. Many area residents were concerned what health risks might arise from contaminants in the area’s soil and groundwater. While he worried about that as well, Salva said, he also had to champion the site’s redevelopment, which would factor in the community’s future economic viability.

“I remember one meeting with the Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City where they told me that they were only really concerned about the safety of people,” Salva said.

“I competely blew up and said that we were also concerned about the economic impact on Sugar Creek.”

The former refinery continues to be developed as a business park known as The Bluffs at Sugar Creek.

Salva also had to negotiate with Lafarge Corp., the international building materials conglomerate which had operated in Sugar Creek since 1991. By 2012, according to Salva, the fees and taxes paid by the company represented the city’s largest source of revenue.

In 1998, Sugar Creek approved a tax abatement agreement — the city’s first since its 1920 incorporation — with Lafarge.

It was controversial. Fort Osage School District officials were upset with a new levy assessment plan, which included “payments in lieu of taxes.”

But to city officials like Salva, it meant that the company’s approximately $150 million planned expansion, announced in 1995, would go forward. That would include a new cement plant, as well as an innovative deep limestone mine that today extracts high-grade limestone from a 5 million-square-foot cavern some 750 feet below the surface.

In 2009, the adjacent cement plant shut down for about three months, interrupting revenue paid to the city, such as utility franchise fees and sales taxes.

“We didn’t lay anybody off,” Salva said.

But there was controversy on a related front. In 2008 a separate Lafarge division, Lafarge Aggregates, filed an application to operate an underground limestone mine beneath a former dairy farm near Sugar Creek’s eastern border. The site stood near hundreds of homes in northeastern Independence and unincorporated Jackson County, as well as an elementary school and several churches.

Many residents opposed the expansion, citing concerns about dust and blasting vibrations. Four emotional public meetings followed in the Onka building, and on other occasions protesters carried picket signs near the expansion site as well as outside Sugar Creek City Hall.

A lawyer representing the residents filed three lawsuits against the expansion in 2010.

But the residents dropped the litigation the next year, saying they could no longer afford it.

“I had empathy for the people who were concerned,” Salva said.

But he said he believes the principal issues, such as the blasting and dust, have been addressed.

The mining, he added, “has been of tremendous economic benefit to the city.”

Last year a new owner, Eagle Materials Inc of Dallas, announced it was acquiring the Sugar Creek Lafarge operations. Company officials stopped by Sugar Creek City Hall, where they assured Salva that they would continue to be a community partner. That included continued financial support of the city’s annual Slavic Festival, which is scheduled this weekend.

Salva, now 75, will be teaching at Avila and Webster universities. He earned a chemical engineering degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and then spent 30 years with AT&T working with the company’s silicon chip initiatives. He also took a master’s degree in business at the University of Central Missouri.

He will be teaching current issues and business ethics.

“Some people,” Salva said, “consider that last one an oxymoron.”