THE JAMES GANG: Prelude to an Environmental Protest Movement

April 28, 1993

When a call was placed to the billboard Saturday morning, the environmentalist answered his cellular phone in a businesslike manner. “Times Beach Action Group,” he said.
Under the cloak of darkness two environmental guerrillas scaled the Meramec Caverns billboard located approximately one mile west of Route 141 on the north side of Interstate 44. Jesse James — the 19th-century bandit who is advertised on the billboard as having hid out in the cave — would probably have been awed by the outlaw environmentalists who temporarily robbed him of his glory. The well-planned assault on the sign was coordinated with a radio equipped ground crew and a press spokesperson. The operation also included the use of code names and phrases. One participant even referred to the group’s headquarters as a “safe house.”

The climbers hauled up provisions, handcuffed themselves to safety cables and waited throughout the blustery predawn hours on a 100-foot high perch.  By about 9 a.m., the duo unfurled their message to the world and in the process covered up Jesse James’ name and most of the giant Meramec Caverns sign with a banner that read: STOP THE INCINERATOR AT TIMES BEACH. The action was taken in advance of a nationwide bus tour that will stop at Times Beach on Thursday. The caravan has been organized by the environmental group Greenpeace to draw attention to the hazard of incinerating dioxin. The Times Beach incinerator, when completed, will burn the hazardous waste.

A demonstration against the planned incinerator and the hazards of dioxin disposal throughout the country will be held near Times Beach at the Lewis Road exit to Interstate 44 at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. At 7 p.m. on the same date, opponents of the Times Beach incinerator will gather at Pacific, Mo. City Hall to hear Greenpeace scientist Pat Costner and Vietnam veteran George Claxton speak on the dioxin problem.

One of the sign-climbers, who confessed to being scared of heights, explained why he took part in the act of civil disobedience. “If you try to work just within due process with the big guys, you always lose,” he said. The environmentalist said the goal of the Times Beach Action Group is to create grassroots opposition to the planned incinerator. The risks of incinerating toxic wastes overshadow violating private-property rights, according to the environmentalist. “They (the police) may come for us, they may not. We feel like, if they arrest us for trespassing, we’re just trying to keep the EPA and the (Times Beach) incinerator from trespassing through our air with toxic emissions.”

–C.D. Stelzer (stlreporter@gmail.com)

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