EPA joins forces with community on Hinkson Creek cleanup

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | 9:35 p.m. CDT; updated 10:26 a.m. CDT, Thursday, March 29, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Environmental Protection Agency has now joined forces with an alliance of community interests to manage cleanup of Hinkson Creek.

The newly assembled group, which has sometimes been at odds over the methods to reduce pollution in the creek, announced Wednesday a three-pronged approach to improve the creek's water quality.

The goal is to collaborate and restore Hinkson Creek to the point where the stream is no longer considered impaired, according to Karl Brooks of the EPA.

A science-based approach will investigate a range of possible actions to enhance the entire stream system, including the creek and other parts of the watershed.

"We've got an effort under way that is going to identify pollutants, preserve the ecosystem and clean up the water," Brooks said. "We have one goal, and that is to restore the health and life to the Hink."

The effort will be broken into a three-step process, each undertaken by a different team, according to Karen Miller, Boone County's Southern District commissioner.

The first is made up of 15 community members who represent the breadth of interests in the Hinkson Creek watershed. Referred to as stakeholders, their task is to suggest actions to reduce pollution.

The stakeholders team includes members from the city of Columbia, Boone County, MU, Columbia Public Schools, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Chamber of Commerce, Central Missouri Development Council, environmental advocacy groups, property owners, conservationists and commercial representatives.

The remaining two are technical teams — an action team and a science team.  The action team is responsible for turning ideas into proposals. The science team monitors the health of the creek, determines the causes of the water quality problems and decides which actions will be most effective.

Shawn Grindstaff of the EPA has been assigned as overall coordinator, Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

Concerns about Hinkson Creek began in 1998 when it was placed on a list of the state's impaired waterways. Since then, there have been several attempts to establish a plan that would clean up the creek.

A lawsuit filed in 2001 prompted a closer look at the cause of the pollution, generally attributed to the amount of stormwater allowed to enter the creek. It took 10 years for a limit to be imposed by the EPA, which ordered in January 2011 that stormwater runoff be reduced by 39.6 percent.

The state, city, county and MU argued that stormwater may not be the main pollutant and claimed that following the EPA order would be too expensive to implement.

The city estimated the cost at anywhere between $30 million and $300 million.

Throughout 2011 little was done to address the EPA demands, and the agencies responsible for ensuring clean water levels sought other options.

With the plan announced Wednesday, the members of each organization, including the EPA, reached an agreement.

Sara Parker Pauley, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the cost of implementing the plan will be justified by having the science to back it up.

"Science is going to be telling us what is working and what is not," she said. "We will be spending our dollars as effectively as possible because of this."

No timeline was given, but Pauley said the collaborative effort would  produce steady progress.

"We have the right process in place to make it happen."

"It's something we've been working on for several years," Miller said. "Our goal today is to figure out how we're going to move forward on this project. It can only happen with all of us pulling together."

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