Lawsuit aims to stop development near Rock Bridge state park

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 | 9:25 p.m. CDT; updated 5:21 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 12, 2014
A lawsuit filed by the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center of St. Louis against the city of Columbia and Parkside Estates development says that mud has been running off the development project and into the stream at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. This photo was provided to Ken Midkiff by Jerry Taylor in mid-May. Taylor told Midkiff that he took the photo along the park's Springbrook Trail. Midkiff is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Editor's note: The caption on the photo above has been revised to reflect that it was provided to the Missourian by Ken Midkiff and to offer details on when and where it was reportedly taken.

COLUMBIA — A lawsuit seeking to block further work on Parkside Estates, a residential subdivision immediately north of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, names not only the city, but also the developer and a contractor working on the project. 

The lawsuit was filed Friday by the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center of St. Louis on behalf of Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and Columbia residents Ken Midkiff and Sandy McCann. They believe that the continued development is adversely affecting the water quality in the park's streams and that it could pose a threat to wildlife in the area.

The lawsuit alleges: 

  • That the city ordinance annexing and zoning the land was unconstitutional because it contained multiple topics.
  • That the city inappropriately issued a land disturbance permit for the development because the land was never legally annexed.
  • That a contractor, Emery Sapp & Sons, and the developer, Southside Trail Estates, have failed to comply with plans designed to protect the park and its streams. 

McCann, who has lived on the park's border since 1999, said neither she nor the homeowner's association was notified that the land had been bought or would be developed. She also said that she was told there would not be any drilling or rock work done on the land. 

"How would you get a permit for blasting and drilling in a karst area?" she said. "I don't know."

McCann said she is concerned with preserving the park. 

"The blasting and broken rock can't be fixed," she said. "I'm really worried that my grandkids won't be able to enjoy what I've enjoyed."

Jan Weaver, treasurer of Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, said she hopes to prevent further damage to the stream by getting an injunction against the development. 

At the location now, mud is running downhill from the development site, coating rocks and filling a nearby stream with mud. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued the developer a notice of violation in April because of water pollution.

Weaver said the threat to the park's streams could continue well after the development ends because of runoff from streets, sidewalks, driveways and rooftops in the neighborhood.

"It is hard for streams to recover from the repeated insult of development," she said. "If (the development is) stopped, over time moss will be able to grow again and little insects can live in the pools again." 

McCann also said she had concerns that more houses could rob the area of the open and spacious feeling that protects the state park and wildlife. 

"It's very dark here," she said. "The animals roam freely. The stars are beautiful. They are forever changing that with lights." 

McCann said she is not against developing the land, but she wants it to be respectful of the park in regard to regulations like the size of the development and the amount of impervious cover. 

In allowing the construction of Parkside Estates, the Columbia City Council mandated that the 36-acre lot have less than 15 percent covered with impervious surfaces, such as concrete or brick, according to previous Missourian reporting. Developers also were required to follow best-management practices regarding stormwater controls. 

The proposal for the final platting for the development was rejected by the council at its April 21 meeting with a 3-4 vote.

"I don't know if the city's regulations aren't adequate or if the development didn't follow them, but something has to change for the development to continue," Weaver said.

Tim Crockett, the engineer of the development, and Daniel Simon, the development company's attorney, did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday. 

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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John Schultz June 11, 2014 | 9:51 a.m.

The repeated insult of development? Such drama.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 11, 2014 | 10:30 a.m.

In trying to understand this, I'd like two questions answered:

(1) Is the area in question above or below the watershed of RBSP?

(2) Is the area in question karst? I know RBSP and the upper reaches NOT in the park are karst. But, what about the development area itself and the watershed into which it empties?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 11, 2014 | 2:08 p.m.

Last time I checked, the Missouri DNR has among its branches a geological survey, headquartered at Rolla. What are their existing findings for this area, and what recommendations if any do they have regarding the specific matters under debate? I do know that underground portions of the area have been explored, and for some underground structures there are one or more maps of the system which involves the park.
The DNR's Geological Survey might prove a more balanced arbiter of the situation than either the developers or present property owners.

One common aspect of all karst regions, in Missouri or elsewhere, is what's called "stream capture," where surface streams, whether continuous or intermittent, can sink into underground caverns and/or underground stream channels. Is there evidence of this?

During my years living in Mid-Missouri, and particularly living in Columbia, I sensed a lack of consulting both state agencies or public university departments (unless found only at the Columbia campus) having specific knowledge of certain matters, yet these sources exist in part to offer assistance, and you are paying taxes to support their operations.

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brooks June 11, 2014 | 2:20 p.m.

Hi, this is Rachel Brooks. I am the reporter on this story. I wanted to let you know that I am looking into your questions! Thanks for reading.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 11, 2014 | 3:32 p.m.

Ellis: I don't have a good contour or watershed map of the area, but the CARES webpage for Boone Country sure makes it look like the development area is BELOW the park; that is, runoff from the development never enters streams/creeks INSIDE the park boundaries. I'm also under the impression that the karst area is NOT to the west, northwest, or southwest of the actual rock bridge.

If these surmises are correct, the belief that "the continued development is adversely affecting the water quality in the park's streams..." isn't

Rachel, thanks for checking! If nothing else, the answers help us assess the accuracy of pro and con advocacies on the matter.

PS: I'd like to know where the photograph was taken. Rachel?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 11, 2014 | 6:37 p.m.

@ Michael Williams:

According to the book "Geological Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri, Second Edition," published 1990 by the DNR but still in print and available for purchase, you are correct in that the serious portion of karst geography in the system that includes Rock Bridge lies to the southeast in the vicinity of Pierpont: NOT to the southwest, west or northwest.

Again I suggest that any and all warring parties consult the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology & Land Survey, P.O. Box 250, Rolla, MO 65401. From the article in the above publication it appears that more than a minor amount of investigation has been conducted on the geological system in question.

(Report Comment)
Rachel Brooks June 12, 2014 | 3:38 p.m.

This is Rachel Brooks, the reporter on the story. Thanks for your questions, Mr. Williams.

Both the Parkside Estates development and Rock Bridge Memorial State Park are within the Little Bonne Femme watershed, Boone County planner Bill Florea said in an email. The properties also are within a larger areas covered by the Bonne Femme Watershed Plan that was adopted by the city of Columbia and Boone County in 2007.

The Bonne Femme and Little Bonne Femme watersheds often are considered the same because they are connected through karst features such as caves, sinkholes and losing streams. In fact, southern Boone County includes a complex system of watersheds and sub-watersheds that are interconnected. An interactive watershed map is available on the city's website.

It's unclear whether the Parkside Estates property contains karst features. In a 2012 Missourian story, city planner Mike Lepke and engineer Tim Crockett discussed that issue. Crockett said there was no indication of karst features on the site, but that developers would look into it and work around it if necessary.

Missouri State Parks Director Bill Bryan said in a Jan. 24, 2013, letter to the city that the Parkside property contains at least one losing stream and possibly a second. He also noted that the geology of the area features highly permeable bedrock and that it would be difficult to keep surface water from draining into the groundwater system.

Here are some helpful links for you:,,

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 12, 2014 | 4:48 p.m.

Rachel: But, the questions were not answered!

The claim is that Parkside will impact RBSP by impairing the park's streams directly via runoff....and indirectly via karst water flow. Your own words in the story said: "They believe that the continued development is adversely affecting the water quality in the park's streams..."

THE ONLY WAY THAT CAN OCCUR is if Parkside (or karst beneath the development)is UPHILL IN THE WATERSHED from the park. If the development's water is LOWER in the watershed...well, water DOES NOT FLOW uphill!!!!!

My questions concern the veracity of the claims. I want to know if it is true that the Parkside portion of the watershed is of higher elevation than RBSP, and that runoff from the development WILL enter the park. I want to know if it is true that water migrating vertically through any karst limestone WILL enter the park's watershed. For these questions, it matters not whether the watersheds are connected; what DOES matter is the direction that surface and subsurface is flowing!!!!!

My limited research to date indicates that Parkside waters DO NOT ENTER RBSP. If this is correct, then we have two outcomes: (1) The original claims are untrue, with RBSP being used inappropriately to stop a development, and (2) The claims would be more accurately applied to runoff/karst affecting areas DOWNSTREAM from the park and development.

However, my sources of information are limited, which was I called on you. I was hoping those professionals you contacted would see the questions I am asking and provide direct answers. WHICH WAY DOES THE WATER FLOW?

I want to know if RBSP is being used as an emotional appeal....or if the park is truly at risk.

You can help with this. Thanks.

(Report Comment)
Scott Swafford June 12, 2014 | 5:01 p.m.

Mr. Williams,

The letter from Missouri State Parks Director Bill Bryan, to which Rachel provided a link for you, makes it clear that Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is directly downstream and downhill from the Parkside development.

Scott Swafford, Missourian city editor

(Report Comment)
Scott Swafford June 12, 2014 | 5:22 p.m.

Also, Mr. Williams, you'll see that we've revised the photo caption on this story to indicate where Mr. Taylor reportedly took the photo and to say that Ken Midkiff provided it to the Missourian.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 12, 2014 | 5:25 p.m.

"...the Parkside property contains at least one losing stream and possibly a second." "Stream capture" is in geology an important identifying aspect of karst topography, so if that statement is correct then the underground formation qualifies as karstian.

These situations occur due to the action of acidic rain water on limestone, which is typically about 95% calcium carbonate and 5% insoluble residues. The limestone formations, which can be up to hundreds of feet thick, contain joints, as to many other rock formations, and the water percolates down into and laterally across existing joints, enlarging and connecting them over time.

Carbonic acid is a relatively weak acid, but it is still potent enough to slowly dissolve the limestone.

According to one Missourian article the MU Columns came from this or a similar limestone formation. This would have made the limestone easier to fashion into columns, but they are more subject to effects of weathering and attack by other agents than, say, the granite forming the shapes in MS&T's "Stonehenge" monument, visible from Busines I-44/US 63 in Rolla. The Columns are definitely more visually pleasing than "Stonehenge," which was created using a unique method of cutting granite (using high-pressure water jets).

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 12, 2014 | 5:33 p.m.

Scott: And that answered my questions!

(Report Comment)

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