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TREE CONTROVERSY: Forest destruction, permit violations anger Councilman, prompt repeal request

"This project has caused considerable conflict."

COLUMBIA, 5/12/13 (Beat Byte) -- A Federal official, an angry City Councilman, and a formal request to repeal a controversial trail project could spell trouble for city administrators struggling to push it forward in the face of growing public opposition.

"Scott Hamilton from the US Fish and Wildlife Service showed up, and he was going to ask if the site had been inspected for the presence of federally listed endangered species," said Ken Midkiff, president of the Osage Group Sierra Club.

Midkiff attended a visit to the Old 63/Grindstone Pedway site Friday with Columbia city manager Mike Matthes; public works director John Glascock; GetAbout director Ted Curtis; parks department director Mike Griggs; City Council members Barb Hoppe, Karl Skala, Ian Thomas and Fred Schmidt; reporters and neighbors.

Near the Old 63 Bridge over Hinkson Creek, the new trail is part of the Federally-funded GetAbout Columbia grant.

Councilman Skala, Midkiff explained, "was quite outspoken.  He stated the entire project lacked any accountability or oversight, and what was being done was not approved by the City Council."

A controversy over large, old-growth tree removal initially sparked debate among neighbors.  "Many more trees will be removed in order to allow two huge cranes to maneuver while installing a new bridge," Midkiff told the Heart Beat.  The city's contractor is reportedly allowed to sell the trees for logging.

Coupled with the city's failure to obtain required federal permits, failure to stop work even though a "stop work" order was issued, and ongoing environmental damage, the tree removal has prompted the Osage Sierra Club to request the City Council halt the project and consider other routes, Midkiff explained.
 
The Sierra Club will also ask that all trees cut remain city property; all contracts stipulate the size, location and species of trees to be cut; and all contracts submitted to the City Council fully detail design plans.

"This project has caused considerable conflict," Midkiff explained. "On the one hand, we are all avid bicyclists and pedestrians, favoring non-motorized transportation.  But on the other, we are avid advocates of resource protection."


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