A priceless park's future suddenly clouded
by Ken MidkiffCOLUMBIA, Mo 4/18/14 (Op Ed) -- I had not planned to attend the April 7 Columbia City Council meeting, but at 6 pm – only an hour before it started – a city employee called me. He asked that his name not be revealed for fear of retribution, and my plans changed.
Rob and Sarah Hill's proposed Parkside Estates subdivision (49 houses, next to Rockbridge State Park) lacked adequate storm water controls, the city employee told me. Spring rains had caused about six inches of mud from the Hill’s development to cover Deer Run Trail in the park, he said.
Had I received the call earlier, I would have visited the site and verified the mud. Instead, I attended the City Council meeting poised to testify (I trusted my source) when Parkside came up for approval. But part of the development’s application was missing, so Council members tabled discussion until a later meeting.
On Wednesday, April 9, I joined two retired Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees for a walk on the Deer Run Trail. We witnessed and photographed what my caller related -- and more: mud over the trail and muddy water in a ravine just east, flowing into a stream.
The mud over the trail was more like eight inches than six inches, and there was no apparent explanation for the muddy flow. Perhaps it was emptying a settling pond or releasing water trapped behind a required berm. Regardless, the muddy flow was a discharge and the Hills did not have a discharge permit as required by Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.
In short, what we saw was a violation of federal law, serious enough that it calls for fines of $25,000 per day. I filed a "Complaint for Agency Action" with both the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 7 (EPA7) and DNR. It takes a while for EPA 7 and DNR to conduct an investigation, and so far I have not received a response.
Meanwhile, a DNR investigator came to the site last Thursday to ascertain compliance with another requirement: a Land Disturbance Permit awarded by the City of Columbia. The Hills had not complied with the disturbance permit's criteria, he said, and they would be issued a Notice of Violation.
After several City Council members pressured city manager Mike Matthes, Timothy Teddy, director of the city’s Community Development Department, drafted what can only be described as a "whitewash report" about the Land Disturbance permit violation.
A typical spring rain was a "deluge" according to Mr. Teddy, who also trivialized the mud that had flowed into the state park from the development site. The report ignored the allegation that the Hills discharged muddy water without a federal permit, though I emailed Mr. Teddy a copy of the discharge complaint shortly after sending it to EPA and DNR.
Mr. Teddy recommended only minor changes to the Land Disturbance permit; exonerated his department; and mostly exonerated the Hills.
I have long suspected city staff kowtows to developers. But I had no idea the price of development would trump the public interest in a priceless state park.
-- Column sponsored by Columbia Heart Beat reader and supporter Barbara Wren