COLUMBIA — When most folks mean business, they roll up their sleeves. When Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala means business, he kicks off his shoes.
"I'm tired of mud on my boots, so I'm gonna go barefoot," Skala said.
Skala's bare feet represented a novel approach to navigating the squelching, clinging gray-brown mud he and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe had come to inspect Friday afternoon at the Crosscreek development near Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63. Hoppe in particular has expressed concern that heavy rains have swept significant amounts of that mud into Grindstone Creek.
The two council members were joined on the lot by City Manager Bill Watkins and Public Works Director John Glascock.
Hoppe, whose constituency includes the development and surrounding area, said recent heavy rainfall highlighted longstanding issues with "helter-skelter, ineffective" erosion control on the controversial 74-acre development.
The area has been vulnerable to erosion since the developers, Stadium 63 Properties, removed the original vegetation, flattened the top of the hill and steepened the drop-off to Grindstone Creek, Skala said.
"It looks like they've been trying to address it, but it's just disappointing that it's been two years" and erosion is still occurring, Hoppe said. Hoppe said that over the past two years she has seen runoff overcome numerous silt fences and other attempts to restrain it.
Current measures include decaying straw bales and plastic netting over the soil in some places, broad coverage with microwave-sized rocks and designated drainage ditches running down the slope to silt fences and containment basins. Hoppe and Skala said the rock cover was particularly ineffective, as water simply flowed beneath the obstructions.
Hoppe said that since she'd visited the property a week ago, several trees near the Grindstone Creek stream bed, already leaning precariously, had fallen over completely. The trees appeared to have succumbed to a combination of erosion, wind and beavers.
The city, which is responsible for a strip of land that will house a bridge over Grindstone Creek linking Stadium and Maguire boulevards, had stepped up its erosion control efforts on the north side of the creek since Hoppe brought the issue up at a recent meeting.
Since then, Glascock said, the city has assigned an inspector to monitor erosion control across the city, built extra silt fences, and repaired deteriorated berms and sediment basins. The city has also asked owners, including Ameren UE, to fix the silt fences on private property along the stream.
Watkins said current standards are designed to deal with up to one inch of rainfall in 24 hours. According to the National Weather Service, more than two inches of rain fell on two different days last week. The 2.13 inches on April 29 broke a 99-year-old record for that day.
The officials discussed possible changes from the baseline standards established by the state's Department of Natural Resources. "It's obvious that DNR's standard isn't working," Hoppe said.
Silt fences are low, black plastic barriers supported by metal or wood stakes. They catch runoff and prevent silt from entering the creek.
According to the United States Geological Survey's Web site, large-scale developments such as Crosscreek with significant grading and clearing are a major source of urban erosion.
The sediment and runoff from these developments "causes excess turbidity that harms aquatic life, increases water-treatment costs, and makes the water less useful for recreation; and sedimentation that clogs drainage ditches, stream channels, water intakes, and reservoirs, and destroys aquatic habitats."
Skala said while the erosion- and silt-control measures near the stream were "much better than what we were doing before," he was still worried because he believes the real issue lies at the top of the steep slope he compares to a "recreational waterslide," which leads to the creek.
"I don't want to see this creek filled in with all this dirt," Skala said. "That wasn't the original intention. I hope we can do something about that."
Skala said the roots of the problem go back to the city's approval of the Crosscreek development proposal.
"This did not exist a few years ago," Skala said. "They asked for this problem, now it's a problem and we have to deal with it."
"The council was told that it would be a green project" and it hasn't quite shaped up that way, Skala said. "If it takes public policy to change that, that's what I intend to do."
Skala said he was frustrated at the council's inability to oversee promises made during the development approval process.
"We're not experts, we don't have staff," Skala said of the council. "We were assured this was to be the greenest bridge project in Columbia history, and it hasn't turned out that way."