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MIDKIFF: Death by a thousand waivers

How side-stepping the law is killing Columbia
By Ken Midkiff


People have criticised the luxury student apartments springing up around Columbia for shoddy construction; inappropriate locations; over-capacity; and other issues. 

How could this have happened?  they ask, as entire neighborhoods and cherished greenspace disappear.   Don't we have regulations, ordinances, and building codes?

Indeed we do.  And the apartment owners, their attorneys, engineers and design consultants are careful to abide by those rules – or get them waived

The answer to "How could this have happened?" lies in all the waivers, variances, and various types of forgiveness city officials grant these projects.  In short, the City of Columbia provides loopholes for builders who do not want abide by the provisions of City law. 

One good for instance:   the City waives ordinances that require no additional stormwater runoff during or after construction.  

All the new apartments, with few exceptions, are in the vulnerable Hinkson Creek watershed.  Hinkson Creek is on the state and federal “impaired water body” list, as it does not support the expected range of aquatic life.

The City of Columbia provides loopholes for builders who
do not want abide by the provisions of City law.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated the pollutant(s) causing the impairment was likely carried in stormwater runoff.   But when the Federal agency recommended a significant runoff reduction, the City -- specifically, Public Works Director John Glascock -- reacted as if a cattle prod had been applied to its backside.

With few facts or data (except for a vague reference to a stream in Vermont), Glascock's office claimed the EPA recommendation would cost the City alone millions of dollars, even though Hinkson Creek also flows through Boone County and the University of Missouri.

No matter.  The City, County and University cut a deal for a variance with the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).   For negotiating this stall tactic, the trio paid $170,000 to their attorney, former MDNR director David Shorr.

Shorr asked for more time to restore the creek under a program called "Collaborative Adaptive Management" or CAM.   As long as some progress was shown, EPA and MDNR agreed to ignore their own recommendations.

When the EPA recommended a significant stormwater runoff reduction, the City reacted
as if a cattle prod had been applied to its backside.

But there has been little, if any, improvement in Hinkson Creek water quality.   Boone County touted a small improvement upstream of the Flat Branch Creek/Hinkson Creek junction, but officials did not test water quality downstream of that  confluence.

Debris and contaminants from a fire on Business Loop 70 made those tests impossible, while making water quality in that part of the Hinkson worse.

Meanwhile, the City continues to approve every project that meets current ordinances and regulations (or grants a variance to those that don’t), disregarding the fact that each development adds stormwater runoff to Hinkson Creek while violating the EPA recommendation. 

Sooner or later, the patience of EPA and MDNR will be exhausted.  By then, however, it will be too late.  I predict that Hinkson Creek will not be restored to health in my lifetime – and I expect to live a long time.

 

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