Agency hears Wal-Mart concerns

Sierra Club worries pollution in Hinkson Creek will rise.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Representatives from two sides of a familiar public debate rehashed their opinions Monday about plans to put a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the already-polluted Hinkson Creek watershed.

At the request of the Sierra Club, officials from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recorded testimony at a meeting Monday night about storm-water plans for the proposed 53-acre commercial development.

Sierra Club members questioned whether the plans meet state water-quality standards, while a representative of developers, who include real estate investor Otto Maly and St. Louis-based developer Michael Staenberg, promised again to protect Hinkson Creek, which the EPA has considered impaired since 1998. The developers need state certification before they can begin construction.

Sierra Club officials restated their concerns that led them to protest the proposed shopping center more than a year ago when the Columbia City Council approved the development.

“If the developers here tonight signed a contract stating no more pollutants would enter Hinkson Creek from this Wal-Mart Supercenter, the Sierra Club would stand aside,” said Johann Holt, conservation chairman for the Osage Group of the Sierra Club. “The fact that they don’t means they know they can’t.”

David Bennett, an engineer, said the developers had incorporated feedback from the community when developing water-quality plans for the site.

They have altered their original plans to fill in a part of Hinkson Creek, which runs behind the property.

Instead, they now intend to bridge the tributary and erect retaining walls on either side of the creek.

Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman for the state chapter of the Sierra Club, asked the DNR to withhold certification on the developers’ application until more is known about the source of the creek’s pollution. Midkiff’s concerns, in part, prompted Monday’s hearing.

“It is to no one’s benefit to have our streams become sewers,” Midkiff said. “We are not a third-world country.”

While DNR officials don’t know the exact source of pollution in the creek, they are studying the problem.

Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, voiced concerns about the hearing process itself.

He said the state should apply a set of standards to all developments.

“Making up standards as you go along is government at its worst,” said Stamper, who is also a former Boone County Commissioner. “It’s government by ambush.”

Water protection officials at the DNR will add transcripts from the hearing to the developers’ application for the water-quality certificate.

DNR spokesman Kerry Cordray said the department’s turnaround following a typical public hearing can be from 30 to 60 days.

Even if the DNR signs off on the storm-water plan, the developers will still need approval for their site plan from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Written comments on the storm-water plan can be submitted to the DNR until 5 p.m. on Dec. 20.

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