Members of Foundation for Columbia's Future announced

Water collects at bottom of stormwater drain

COLUMBIA — There’s a man-made stream that runs alongside Rock Quarry Road, under Grindstone Parkway and into the the neighborhoods south of it.

On Friday, with the temperature at 11 degrees, the storm sewer was less of a stream than a rivulet, a thin trickle fighting the ice and the temperature as it approached the pipe underneath Juniper Court.

Former state Rep. Chris Kelly’s breath produced a cloud of steam in the frigid air as he leaned into the pipe below Juniper.

“Don’t worry — the snakes are mostly asleep,” Kelly joked as he beckoned reporters to follow him. He pointed at the rusted-out bottom of the metal pipe and said the water corrodes the pipe and erodes the soil underneath.

Water inched down the pipe, pooling into a frozen puddle about halfway down. Its bottom is mostly gone, more gravel visible than steel.

Then, Kelly bounded up the bank and onto the street above. “You see how the gutter is down,” he said as he pointed at the cement directly above the pipe. It was slightly sunken compared to the gutter and street on either side of it.

“If you’re driving over it every day, you’re not going to think anything of it,” Kelly said.

Eventually, if the conditions are right and it rains just enough, the street will open up and a sinkhole will swallow it, he said, and that’s what happened about a decade ago when a section of Worley Street became a 32-foot crater.

Avoiding potential sinkholes and the dilapidated pipe on Juniper Court is the reason voters need to pass Proposition 2 on April 7, Kelly said.

The reason for the Friday morning “show and tell,” Kelly said, was to announce members of the Foundation for Columbia’s Future, the committee that will advocate for voter approval of Proposition 1, a $63.1 million bond issue for electric improvements, and Proposition 2, which asks Columbia residents to pay higher monthly bills for the city's stormwater utility.

Dave Sorrell, the city’s sewer utility manager, said the roughly 40-year-old pipe under Juniper Court is one of about 50 such pipes across the city that have exhausted their expected lifespan.

Kelly said the electric bond issue is also important because Columbia doesn’t just have to worry about its own power. It’s part of a national grid, and the city needs the ability to accommodate outages.

The 17-member committee, which Kelly will chair, has members from across Columbia’s political spectrum, including the development community.

Kelly said he doesn’t expect organized opposition to either ballot issue because Proposition 1 and 2 affect “everyone across the board” and because maintaining basic infrastructure “has nothing to do with politics.”

In the fall, local developers through a political action committee named Citizens for a Better Columbia spent about $188,000 campaigning against a development fee increase, which would have raised city revenue to maintain roads.

The committee will use yard signs and talk to civic groups to campaign and convince the public, Kelly said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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