Twenty-two developments — including a Wal-Mart Supercenter planned for south Columbia — are on hold while the state sits on land-disturbance permits out of fear the projects could further pollute Hinkson Creek.
Hinkson Creek has been considered impaired by unknown pollutants since 1998 by the Environmental Protection Agency. While construction in the watershed has continued unabated until now, officials with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are worried that further development could compromise the creek. Until a solution is found, land-disturbance permits are on hold.
That means projects, including the Wal-Mart Supercenter planned for Grindstone Parkway, the Bass Pro Shops at Highway 63 and Vandiver Drive and a Boone County reconstruction of Olivet Road, will have to wait. Twenty-three projects overall are on hold.
Delay could cause problems for Columbia College and others
Also on the waiting list is Columbia College’s plan to build a new student commons, but Bob Hutton, Third Ward councilman and director of facilities and operations at the college, was unaware that the project is on hold.
“If this is in fact true, it will have a major detrimental impact,” he said. “This has the potential to put many people out of work.”
Bob Jurgensmeyer of J&W Land Co. also didn’t know his permit to build a dentist office on Chapel Hill Court is on hold.
“(Delays) could be disastrous,” he said. “(The city and state’s development) process makes one want to say to hell with the whole thing.”
Hinkson Creek pollution debate continues
The situation represents a minor victory for Ken Midkiff of the Ozark chapter of the Sierra Club. Midkiff has long maintained that because no one knows what’s polluting Hinkson Creek, no one should be allowed to build within its watershed. He brought the issue to the attention of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency in a letter last month and testified about Hinkson’s impaired status during a city council hearing on the Wal-Mart proposal.
“Hinkson Creek is screwed up,” Midkiff said Thursday. “I’m relieved someone is finally paying attention.”
Representatives from the DNR and the EPA, however, don’t seem to think the issue is as serious as Midkiff implies.
EPA spokesman Martin Kessler said federal standards do not bar development from continuing in the watershed until the source of the pollution is determined, but it is up to the state to decide.
Pat Costello, an EPA regional water standards coordinator, said Hinkson Creek’s “medium priority” status in 1998 means only that it will be studied before 2011.
Devolopment resolution should come soon
Columbia developers certainly won’t have to wait that long. DNR representative Connie Patterson said that while her agency is “very concerned” about the health of the stream, the permit problems can be worked out within a few weeks.
“We don’t know what the problem (with the creek) is,” Patterson said. “Scientific research is going to take longer than these people want to wait.”
Patterson said the creek doesn’t have to come off the impaired list before construction can begin in the watershed. “We don’t want to stand in the way of economic development,” she said. “What’s happened is developers are stuck, and we need to get everyone back in compliance and move forward.”
To resolve the problem quickly, DNR Director Steve Mahfood met with Columbia City Manager Ray Beck and members of the Boone County Commission on Monday. Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins said another meeting with DNR personnel was scheduled for Thursday, and that he hoped it would help clear up some of the questions.
Martin MacDonald, representing Bass Pro Shops said Thursday that construction is on schedule. Engineers will meet Monday to figure out how to build safely and avoid polluting the creek.
— Missourian reporters Andrea Latta, Gena Lupardus and Dana Smith contributed to this report.