Wal-Mart plan faces further scrutiny

The Sierra Club warns that plans could damage Hinkson Creek.
Thursday, October 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:07 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Wal-Mart Supercenter to be built in south Columbia will face additional scrutiny because of its proximity to Hinkson Creek, said Sierra Club representatives. The club also is questioning whether the development plans will stand up to state and federal regulations.

On Monday, the Columbia City Council rezoned a 53-acre site along Grindstone Parkway to accommodate plans for the Wal-Mart and accompanying commercial and residential development. Before work can begin, however, Aspen Acquisitions must apply for various state permits, most significantly a land-disturbance permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Evaluating Hinkson Creek

Sierra Club representatives warned the council Monday that the project might not qualify for the permits. Ken Midkiff, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Water Campaign, noted that Hinkson Creek appeared on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired waterways in 1998 because it is contaminated by “unknown pollutants.”

The stream was removed from the list of impaired streams in 2002, but the EPA is considering whether to restore that status.

Midkiff said state and federal laws prohibit agencies from issuing land-disturbance permits for projects that would pollute impaired waterways. He said it’s highly unlikely a development the size of the Wal-Mart proposal would make the cut.

Midkiff said the DNR is studying Hinkson Creek to determine what the pollutants are as well as the source of the pollution. Until those things are determined, he argued, no permit should be issued for any project in the Hinkson watershed.

Building a new Wal-Mart

Fifth Ward Councilman John John belittled Midkiff’s claim, saying at the meeting that to prohibit development in the Hinkson watershed would be tantamount to a moratorium on development in three-fourths of the city. He noted that the Wal-Mart proposal was the first project that Midkiff had spoken against.

Mayor Darwin Hindman, however, said he was encouraged by Midkiff’s testimony. The fact that the EPA and the DNR will review the Wal-Mart plans “is a comfort to me,” he said.

Representatives for Aspen Acquisitions said they doubt the Wal-Mart project will affect the quality of storm-water runoff from the site or call for EPA involvement. At the Monday council meeting, storm-water expert Chuck Morris of the University of Missouri-Rolla predicted a filtering system planned for the site would protect the creek.

Aspen attorney Craig Van Matre said that to obtain the necessary permits, the development will have to meet best management practices, as defined by the DNR. Cynthia Smith, a DNR storm-water expert, said such practices include detention ponds and extra landscaping intended to keep soil in place.

“When you build a development, you take out all the grass and trees that filter the water,” Smith said. “Instead, you have to put in things that will keep the soil where it is, and keep it from running down the street and into creeks.”

Meeting regulation expectations

Van Matre said he’s confident the development will meet state expectations.

“Our engineers tell us our best management practices are well within the parameters of federal and state regulations,” he said. “We’re not going to be slowed down at all.”

EPA spokesman Martin Kessler said his agency would be especially interested in the Wal-Mart development if Hinkson Creek remains on the impaired waters list. Even if it doesn’t, the EPA could become involved if the developer violates the Missouri Clean Water Act or state guidelines for storm-water management.

“If the state gives Wal-Mart a permit, and if Wal-Mart violates the permit, we could be involved,” Kessler said, noting that a final decision on Hinkson Creek’s status will come within the next couple of weeks.

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