COLUMBIA — A resolution that would officially state the city’s opposition to EPA recommendations for eliminating pollution in Hinkson Creek will be the subject of a unique public hearing before the City Council on Monday night.
The debate, which will be the first item of business on the agenda for the council’s 7 p.m. meeting, follows criticism about the lack of involvement by the council in establishing city policy on the EPA plan.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz two weeks ago criticized Mayor Bob McDavid and city staff for failing to involve the council in establishing policy on the creek before writing a letter to the EPA opposing its plan. He said in public comments that the matter was only the latest example of the staff and mayor acting as if the council were an “impediment” to expeditious policy making.
“As far as I can tell there has never been a vote or resolution in regard to the city’s position on Hinkson Creek,” Sturtz said Friday.
Ken Midkiff, chairman of the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, who supports the EPA’s recommendations, also has criticized the city’s stance and what he sees as its failure to involve and inform the council.
The resolution will be debated as a “special item” on the council agenda.
City Manager Bill Watkins said in a memo to the council that he was surprised at Sturtz’s comments and that he believes the council has been kept up to speed on the Hinkson Creek situation.
Watkins said the city’s response to a recent Sunshine request from Midkiff, and extensive reporting by the media on the ongoing dispute involving Hinkson Creek, “indicates extensive communication.”
“If there was a lack of understanding of the issue, there certainly were many opportunities to clear up concerns,” Watkins said.
The debate over Hinkson Creek is of high concern due to the major implications the EPA’s recommendations could have. The city, county and MU all oppose the EPA plan and, represented by attorney David Shorr, have been pushing for an alternative.
Hinkson Creek is listed on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ list of impaired streams. After several attempts by that department to develop a plan for cleaning up the creek, the EPA took responsibility. It has proposed a plan known as a total maximum daily load, which seeks to bring pollution in the creek down to acceptable standards.
The EPA’s most recent recommendation calls for Columbia to reduce the amount of stormwater that runs into Hinkson Creek by 39.6 percent, according to a previous Missourian article.
Shorr, of the law firm Lathrop and Gage, said in a 23-page letter to the EPA that the plan is problematic in several respects.
A major concern lies with the EPA’s reason for listing the creek as “impaired.” Shorr argues the EPA illegally uses stormwater runoff as surrogate for pollutants that are “unknown.” He also argues that there are flaws in the EPA’s evidence and that “a volume reduction of that magnitude is scientifically impossible.”
Shorr also argues that the plan could actually result in higher concentrations of pollutants in the creek, infringe on the property rights of downstream landowners and undermine ongoing efforts by the city and county to control pollution. Shorr said the cost of implementing the plan could reach as high as $300 million, based on the cost of a similar plan created for Vermont’s Potash Brook, a much smaller watershed.
On Monday night, Watkins said in his memo the city staff will give a 15-minute presentation on the situation. McDavid has promised Midkiff 10 minutes to address the council.
Midkiff said he plans to discuss the plan, the validity of using stormwater runoff as a surrogate for known sources of pollution and the legitimacy of Shorr’s contract with the city.
The EPA originally was under a Dec. 31 deadline to review public comments and make a final recommendation. After negotiations with the Sierra Club, however, that deadline was extended to Jan. 31.