Growth in the sensitive watersheds of southeast Columbia just isn’t smart — at least not yet, according to one community watchdog group.
Arguing that sewer extensions are the first step toward development, the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition said Friday that voters should reject the city of Columbia’s $18.5 million sewer bond issue because one of the slated projects would spur growth in the sensitive Gans Creek, Clear Creek and Little Bonne Femme watersheds. The bond issue appears on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Proposition 1 - what it does
If the measure is approved, the city would spend nearly $1.2 million to boost the capacity of a pump station near Clear Creek and another $1.6 million to add a relief line that will run parallel to the existing sewer system that runs through the Mill Creek watershed. The new line will take stress off the Clear Creek pump station.
Why they don't like it
The Smart Growth Coalition has criticized that plan because of the projects’ proximity to the Philips tract, a 489-acre farm along U.S. 63 that developer Elvin Sapp wants to use for a mix of businesses and homes. While Sapp has withdrawn his proposal for the time being, spokesman Mark Farnen said it’s likely to go back to the city in December.
The coalition argues that the city is proposing the projects to accommodate Sapp’s plans and that there is no way yet to ensure that storm-water runoff from any Philips developmentwould not pollute the area’s watersheds.
Conflicts of opinion
“The main reason for the new line in Mill Creek is for the Philips property,” Smart Growth Coalition co-chairman Ben Londeree said.
City officials beg to differ. They said the upgrade has nothing to do with the Philips development but is simply a routine effort to keep the sewer system up to date. Clear Creek’s 20-year-old pump station operates near capacity during heavy rain, when water leaks into private sewer lines that feed into the city’s system, city sewer engineer Steve Hunt said. He added that a breakdown could pollute nearby creeks.
While city officials have said that part of Philips could be developed without the sewer upgrade, Farnen said Sapp prefers a city sewer serviceto lagoons and treatment plants that would discharge into the watershed and pollute the creeks. He added that a new sewer line would also allow neighbors who now use lagoons to tap into the city system instead.
“There’s a huge benefit to the environment,” Farnen said. “We don’t see this as an environmental disaster, we see it as an improvement.”
Because the Clear Creek pump station serves several growing neighborhoods, it needs to be upgraded regardless of whether the Philips tract is developed, city officials said.
“That pump station services a large and growing area,” Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins said, citing LeMone Industrial Park and the Southridge neighborhood. “We’re not asking for things we don’t need. When pump stations get to be a certain age, they’re like a car.”
Another option proposed
The Smart Growth Coalition, however, believes the city should simply fix the existing system rather than add capacity. When it’s not raining, Londeree noted, the Clear Creek station operates far below its capacity. “(Fixing it) would give them a few more years with the system,” he said.
Hunt conceded the city has older pump stations but said Clear Creek is “a very critical location. Most old pump stations are not like this one.”
Farnen said the Smart Growth Coalition’s opposition to the bond issue is just another way to attack the Philips development.
“They’re mixing two different things together,” Farnen said. “The fact that we want to develop is not why the city put the issue on the ballot. Going against the bond issue (because of Philips) isn’t fair.”