For city officials and residents of Columbia, it’s not enough to pay more than $200,000 for the authority to dump fill in an unnamed tributary of Gans Creek. They say that it is important to make sure the money is spent locally on other stream projects in the area.
The city, through an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Department of Transportation, will pay $202,545 in mitigation costs for altering the stream as part of the construction of a new highway interchange at Gans Road and U.S. 63. About 1,500 feet of the waterway will be filled and will force a relocation that would make way for the interchange’s northbound on-ramp, according to a city report.
Although some city officials believe the stream is more accurately described as a man-made ditch, the Corps of Engineers disagrees. And that means the city will have to pay.
As it stands, the money will go to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation’s Stream Stewardship Trust Fund. The fund, through an agreement with the Corps, is responsible for restoring, enhancing and preserving streams. Typically, the organization pools any money contributed to the fund and distributes it among selected projects statewide.
At the Oct. 1 meeting of the City Council, however, members complained that the money might not contribute to projects at Gans Creek or within the Little Bonne Femme watershed of southern Boone County.
Citizens who spoke later on the issue echoed the council’s concerns. They included Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman for the Osage Chapter of the Sierra Club. He described Gans Creek as “extremely muddy and filled with sediment.”
“If the city is going to pay funds, then the city should (make sure) those funds ... fix the problem at Gans Creek,” Midkiff said.
In response to those concerns, City Manager Bill Watkins set up a meeting for next week with Richard Thom, executive director of the Heritage Foundation.
“They seem to be receptive in talking with us and finding a project or projects that would benefit Gans Creek,” Watkins said Wednesday.
That should make Ben Londeree happy. He’s co-chairman of the Bonne Femme Watershed project.
“I think I can safely say that our group would ask you to go to whatever length you have to get these funds applied locally,” Londeree said Monday night.
Because of the timetable for the interchange project, the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation determined earlier this year that on-site mitigation was impossible, which led to the need for payment to the stewardship fund.
Watkins said he wished the city and state had known earlier about the requirement.
We were notified “at the eleventh hour,” Watkins said Monday night. “Given more time, we would have designed a project along Gans Creek. ... But I don’t think we’d have designed the (road) project any differently.”
Mark Frazier, regulatory program manager for the Corps of Engineers, said plans for the interchange demanded the mitigation payment.
It’s “a trigger when they are going to put solid material into a stream,” he said.
Paul Calvert, head of the stream unit for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said most groups facing mitigation fees look for alternatives, including local stream projects.
“There are probably hundreds, maybe thousands of 404 permits submitted to the Corps of Engineers a year,” Calvert said, referring to a section of the federal Clean Water Act that outlines the procedure for filling navigable waterways. “We probably get 30 to 40 a year that pay in-lieu mitigation fees.”
The amount of the city’s payment is based on the Corps’ credit system, which uses the length of the stream affected and the type of disturbance to gauge potential impact. For the Gans Road project, the corps determined the city would have to buy 5,787 credits, worth $202,545. This is based on Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation Program fee of $35 per credit.
The entire project will be financed through a cost-sharing agreement between the city, state and the Bristol Lake Transportation District. For now, the city is taking the lead on the project, Watkins said Friday.
The appropriation was originally included on the City Council’s Oct. 1 consent agenda,, which is primarily for items that preclude discussion in favor of voting for or against the items. The council approved Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe’s request that the appropriation be taken off the consent agenda to be considered as a separate item up for discussion by the council. Mayor Darwin Hindman called that “very appropriate.”
“I really feel it shouldn’t have been there,” Hindman said. “This is a matter of considerable concern to the community.”