COLUMBIA — EPA recommendations calling for significant reductions in storm-water runoff to control pollution in Hinkson Creek were rejected on a 5-2 vote by the Columbia City Council after a 2 1/2–hour public hearing Monday night.
The resolution opposing the EPA plan appeared on the council agenda after criticism from First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz and from Ken Midiff, chairman of the Osage Chapter of the Sierra Club. Both have asserted that Mayor Bob McDavid and city staff took an official stance on the issue without adequate input or involvement from the council.
They also criticized the city’s arrangement with David Shorr, a Columbia attorney who has represented the Central Missouri Development Council and is a former director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Sturtz said the council should have been told that Shorr was representing the city; Midkiff said he has seen no evidence that Shorr actually is operating with any sort of contract.
At the beginning of the hearing, Columbia Public Works Director John Glascock gave a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation outlining city efforts that he argues have contributed to the health of the stream over the years. He displayed aerial images of Hinkson Creek outlining the impaired areas — locations of the watershed that the Department of Natural Resources has identified as contributing to pollution in the creek — and listed a timeline of events that led to the city’s position.
Glascock said that the city, Boone County and MU are committed to reducing pollution in Hinkson Creek but previous studies of water quality in the stream are flawed.
Since 1998, Hinkson Creek has been 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.
The EPA 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.
Glascock ended his presentation by proposing more studies and the pursuit of “more modest goals,” which include starting reductions of stormwater runoff at a much lower percentage and finding money to implement a comprehensive stormwater utility plan and long-term monitoring of the creek.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe peppered Glascock, his staff and Boone County stormwater coordinator Georganne Bowman with questions about whether they had factored the work of the Hinkson Creek Watershed Restoration Project into their position. She said the group, which includes representatives of the city, the county and MU, has done volunteer work on behalf of the stream and has monitored water quality in the creek.
City Manager Bill Watkins summarized Glascock’s comments, calling Hinkson Creek “a math issue.” The cost of meeting the EPA’s stormwater detention requirements, he argued, would be significant.
City estimates have placed the cost at up to $300 million. Even a modest estimate of $100 million, Watkins said, would require the diversion of years of sales tax revenue.
Sturtz praised the staff’s presentation but said the council should have been informed much earlier.
“I refuse to vote on this as if this conversation was had a few months ago,” he said.
After the city staff’s presentation, Midkiff spoke to what he called “the other side of the story.” A vocal proponent of the EPA recommendations, Midkiff said the EPA’s use of stormwater as a surrogate for “unknown” pollutants is valid. Stormwater runoff, he argued, is a “chemical stew” full of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, anti-freeze, grease and warm water.
“If not stormwater, then what?” he asked.
Several other speakers followed, including Don Stamper of the Central Missouri Development Council. He called the city, county and MU’s opposition to the EPA plan “a wise decision.”
Sturtz said he was impressed with the amount of expertise the hearing brought to the discussion.
“The kind of conversation we’re having tonight is something to be proud of,” Sturtz said. But he said he found it “insulting” that the council was being asked to vote on a policy opposing the EPA plan after city staff and Shorr already had done so.
Hoppe said the city is partially to blame for the situation it’s in.
“I feel the city has dragged its feet” on the stormwater issue, she said.
Council members Jason Thornill Gary Kespohl, Daryl Dudley and Laura Nauser of the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth wards joined McDavid in favoring the resolution opposing the EPA plan. McDavid said the debate was essential but emphasized that he believes the EPA plan is “not reasonable.”
“I think it has a breathtaking lack of science, and I cannot support it,” McDavid said.
In the end, only Sturtz and Hoppe opposed the resolution. Midkiff said that he expected that result, and he would e-mail the EPA on Tuesday to push for a scheduled approach to meeting its requirements.
The EPA is under a Jan. 31 deadline to complete its recommendation. Both the city and Midkiff have suggested they’re willing to go to court over the matter.