COLUMBIA — Within a few days of the Moon Valley Lake dam breaking on March 17, the entire seven-acre lake had drained into Hominy Creek, which flows into Hinkson Creek.
Initially there were concerns that large amounts of sediment would run into the creeks. The amount discharged has not been as large as originally feared, said Jeff Barrow, the project manager of the Greenbelt Land Trust, a local nonprofit that works to protect natural habitats. Even so, it is a violation of city ordinances to allow sediment to leave one’s property.
A report by the Public Works Department presented Monday at the City Council meeting recommended stabilizing the stream rather than repairing or replacing the dam. The stabilization project would entail planting trees and placing rocks along the banks as well as removing some of the dirt in the lake bed, said Steve Hunt, manager of Environmental Services for the City of Columbia.
To bring the property in line with city guidelines, the owner of the land, Margaret Rogers, would need to prevent sediment from washing downstream. But because she cannot afford to do so herself, Rogers’ attorney Bob Smith said she has expressed interest in potentially donating the land to the city, which could stabilize the stream and stop further erosion.
The report released by the city estimated the project would cost $400,000. Because the city cannot absorb the expense for the project, the report recommended the Greenbelt Land Trust take ownership of the land. Barrow said estimates that he has seen for the project place the cost closer to $40,000.
At an internal meeting Tuesday, the Land Trust expressed concern about liability if it were to take ownership of Rogers’ land. Barrow said ownership seemed like a project the Greenbelt Land Trust could do if it could collaborate with groups such as the Stream Stabilization Trust Fund and raise outside money to complete the project.
Smith said other parties are looking into acquiring the land, including one developer who would stabilize the streambed and then give the land to the city in exchange for mitigation credits to develop other land.
Craig Van Matre, who represents THF Grindstone Plaza Development and THF Red Oak Development, sent the City Council a proposal Monday stating his clients’ wish to acquire the property. The developers would stabilize the stream in exchange for the removal of development restrictions on land set aside as green space. The land, about five acres of trees around the Grindstone Plaza Wal-Mart, was set aside when the area was zoned for commercial use. The companies are interested in developing the protected areas, but such action would require council approval.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who is also a member of the Greenbelt Land Trust, said citizens in her ward enjoy the green spaces within the development and want to see the trees remain. She said allowing a developer to alleviate an environmental problem in exchange for “backsliding” on land set aside for preservation would set a very dangerous precedent.
Hoppe added if the lower monetary estimate for stabilizing the stream is accurate, then solving the problem through allowing preservation areas to be developed wouldn’t be a reasonable trade-off.
“I think that would be an absolute wrong way to go,” she said.