Water-quality concerns slow Wal-Mart plan

DNR will consider the environmental costs of a new Wal-Mart at a hearing on Dec. 13.
Friday, December 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:39 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

The public will once again have a chance to speak on plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter off Grindstone Parkway in southern Columbia.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources will hold a public hearing Dec. 13 on the proposed development’s impact on water quality in the Hinkson Creek drainage basin. The local chapter of the Sierra Club requested the hearing to raise awareness about the project’s proximity to the environmentally sensitive Hinkson Creek.

“Until Hinkson Creek is cleaned up, no development should be allowed,” said Johann Holt, conservation chairman for the Osage Group of the Sierra Club.

The Natural Resources Department is considering whether plans for the 53-acre commercial development satisfy state water-quality standards. A permit known as a 401 water-quality certification is required from the department whenever proposed construction would affect wetlands, said department spokesman Kerry Cordray.

The focus of the Dec. 13 hearing will be narrowly tailored, he said.

“The public hearing is just about the 401 water-quality certification,” Cordray said. “It’s not about the whole project. It’s not about whether the development should happen.”

Holt disagrees, saying that all opinions should be heard.

“Whatever Columbia citizens want to talk about, they should be able to talk about,” he said.

Although public hearings on plans for storm-water management for new developments don’t occur regularly, they aren’t unusual, Cordray said.

“If a public hearing is requested, then we honor that request,” he said.

Charles Coatney, a permit writer with the Natural Resources Department, estimates that about one in 1,000 applications receives a public hearing. Most of the time, he said, people don’t know or don’t care that developers have applied for a permit.

In this case, construction has been delayed by concerns about an unnamed tributary of Hinkson Creek that runs behind the proposed Wal-Mart development. The original site plan called for filling in the gulch to build a parking lot. Department officials, however, have insisted that developers instead bridge the gulch and build retaining walls on both sides of the tributary to preserve the streambed.

Real estate investor Otto Maly and St. Louis-based developer Michael Staenberg, who make up the partnership behind the project, have also agreed to install runoff filters and a pond for holding storm water on the site. These improvements should satisfy water-quality concerns, said Craig Van Matre, an attorney representing THF Grindstone Plaza Development, the group behind the proposal.

“Water will be in the same condition when it leaves as when it enters the site,” he said.

But Holt said his group is still concerned about the development because any increased pollution would add to the cost of cleaning up Hinkson Creek. The creek has been on a federal list of impaired waterways since 1998.

“The developers have taken steps to make this development smaller, and we applaud that,” Holt said but added that more pollution would cost taxpayers money.

In addition to Natural Resources Department certification, the developers must get a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and submit the revised site plan for approval by Columbia city officials. Only then can construction begin.

The developers have welcomed the public hearing as a way to move ahead with the process of getting state and federal approval, said Frank Hackmann, another attorney for the development group.

“We wanted a public hearing because we felt that the best way for the state to make an expedited decision is to have a public hearing,” Hackmann said. “That’s really our objective: to keep the ball rolling forward.”

Feedback from the hearing will be incorporated into the developers’ application, and department officials will likely reach a decision in 30 to 60 days, Cordray said.

The extra scrutiny has delayed the start of construction by about a year, Van Matre said.

The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center, 801 E. Walnut St.

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