Columbia officials have agreed to make significant changes to their storm-water management program in the midst of controversy over land-disturbance permits in the Hinkson Creek watershed.
City Manager Ray Beck, Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins and other city representatives met Tuesday with officials from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to work out problems with the city’s permit process.
Earlier this month, the DNR was sitting on 27 land-disturbance permits because it found the city was lax in its process for issuing, inspecting and enforcing storm-water management plans on construction sites in the watershed of Hinkson Creek. The creek has been considered impaired by unknown pollutants since 1998.
Eighteen of those permits — including those for a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Grindstone Parkway and a new student commons for Columbia College — have since been issued. Nine, including one for Bass Pro Shops on Vandiver Drive, are still on hold.
Bryan Fawks, regional deputy director of DNR’s Water Protection and Soil Conservation Division, said Tuesday that the city is largely to blame for the permit problem. He said the city failed to submit with its permit applications storm-water management plans that were detailed enough to ensure the projects would not harm the creek.
“It didn’t appear there was enough information on those plans to make a judgment,” Fawks said.
Watkins called the problem a “formatting” issue. He said that while the city has written standards dealing with, for example, how a slit fence should be built, it usually doesn’t include those guidelines in permit applications. Now, the applications will include those kind of details.
“We’re going to put it in the way they want to see it,” Watkins said. “They need to be able to see that all provisions of the law are met just by looking at the plan.”
Fawks said the city also failed to inspect some sites to ensure developers were following their plans. Watkins said the city and the state will now work together on inspections and enforcement.
“We need to hold people’s feet to the fire a little closer than we’ve been doing,” Watkins said.
Fawks conceded that the DNR could have communicated with the city better and earlier but that “the city should have been more diligent to make sure these things were actually happening on the ground.”
Watkins said Tuesday the city is happy to comply with DNR standards now that everyone has a better idea of what’s expected. He was also pleased Tuesday to learn that the DNR is studying Hinkson Creek to determine what’s contaminating it.
For now, Fawks said, the state will scrutinize every permit issued in the Hinkson Creek watershed. It may relax its review if it’s sure the creek is being protected.
Meanwhile, Ken Midkiff of the Ozark chapter of the Sierra Club, said Tuesday his organization is considering lawsuits against all the parties involved in the permit process. That would include the developers, the city, the state and the EPA.
Midkiff thinks the DNR has broken federal law by issuing the permits, and said he intends to take the matter up in federal court.
“We are going to set a precedent,” he said.
Attorney David Shorr, a former DNR director who now represents the Central Missouri Development Council, said the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA’s impaired waters list cannot be used to stop development. The council includes several members with projects in the Hinkson watershed.
“The listing is nothing more than a list unless you go through seven steps,” Shorr said. “Based on that case, you can’t jump from the (list) to no permits.”
EPA spokesman Martin Kessler said he’d have to check with a lawyer to determine where the EPA stands on the issue.