Columbia, EPA slowly moving forward on Hinkson Creek cleanup

Monday, April 23, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 4:31 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 23, 2012
Hinkson Creek flows under Providence Road. The Columbia City Council has authorized an agreement among the city, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources outlining a process to restore the stream's biological community.

COLUMBIA — After 12 years, the tug of war over the Hinkson Creek restoration effort has reached a compromise.

On April 16, the City Council authorized an agreement among the city, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources outlining a process to restore the stream's biological community.

The creek was declared impaired in 1998, a designation that requires a plan to restore water quality.

The collaborative agreement involves three groups:

  • A stakeholder committee that includes developers, property owners and representatives from environmental groups who will suggest possible methods for reducing pollution. Its first meeting will be April 30.
  • An action team that includes representatives from the city and county governments who will be responsible for vetting stakeholders' ideas and turning them into proposals. No date has been set for its first meeting.
  • A science team that includes government and university scientists who will be responsible for monitoring the health of the creek, determining the causes of water quality problems and deciding which actions will be most effective. Its first meeting will be Wednesday. 

An EPA facilitator will help set rules, structure and focus in order to promote productive discussion, said Kris Lancaster, a spokesman for the agency.

Steve Hunt, the city's environmental services manager, said the first meetings are expected to be mostly administrative.

"My opinion is that the first meeting is going to be sort of a meet-and-greet," Hunt said. "They have not met the facilitator, so he will likely take some time to introduce himself and how he sees this process going, then the group will likely set some order of business ground rules — when they want to meet, how often they want to meet and what day of the week."

Once the agreement has been finalized, the action team will have 120 days to make recommendations for initial projects.

"It will take some time to get stakeholders up to speed on everything that the science team knows," Hunt said.

In addition to the 120-day deadline, other tentative time frames are outlined in the agreement, Renee Bungart of the Department of Natural Resources said.

"I know that they tried to establish some reasonable time frames, but they're not set in stone," Bungart said. "There is no specific time frame. The ultimate goal is to improve water quality, so if they try something and determine that it's not improving the water quality then we can go back and reassess."

The Hinkson Creek controversy dates back to a lawsuit filed against the EPA in 1999 by Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman of the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, compelling the EPA and the Department of Natural Resources to perform 174 total maximum daily load studies to improve the impaired creek.

In January 2011, the EPA established a total maximum daily load — the maximum amount of a pollutant that a stream can receive while still meeting water quality standards — which named stormwater as the creek's primary pollutant and called for a 39.6 percent reduction in urban stormwater runoff.

The recent agreement was negotiated to settle a tumultuous dispute that was exacerbated when Columbia, Boone County and MU — the three entities holding a stormwater permit for Hinkson Creek — filed suit against the EPA last year. These three groups didn't believe stormwater was the main pollutant and were discontent with the EPA's stipulations. The city also argued that the EPA order was too expensive, with an anticipated cost between $30 million and $300 million.

Midkiff said he remains displeased with the status of the Hinkson Creek cleanup efforts. 

"Our perspective is that the settlement agreement is in violation of the court order," Midkiff said. "The ideal solution was that as proposed by the EPA. They determined that the best way to address the problem with Hinkson Creek was by reduction of stormwater runoff."

Midkiff said the city, county and university have done nothing to begin reducing stormwater since the EPA's order was issued 14 months ago, and that he sees the settlement as "an additional stall and delay tactic."

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