Environmental Protection Agency inspectors came to Columbia in 2004 and fined several companies for violating the federal Clean Water Act because of stormwater violations.
The developers of Kelly's Ridge apartments were among those the EPA fined. In November 2004, EPA told them they were violating stormwater regulations and had to fix a run-off problem, to the tune of $22,000, plus a $10,000 fine.
"They obviously were letting silt and sediment get into the stream channels," said Jim Thaxter, Columbia public works inspector, "or they probably wouldn't have gotten fined."
KOMU tried to talk to the owner, who never returned our phone calls.
Kelly's Ridge is not the only development in Columbia that broke the law. Seven companies paid EPA fines in the past two years for failing to follow stormwater regulations.
Although the EPA has final say on enforcement, it's public works employees like Thaxter who deal with developers on stormwater issues.
"When we come out on an inspection," he explained, "we look at the practices that they've put in, such as the silt fence that we looked at up there along the sidewalk. This is a diversion berm along here. So this collects rainwater from the construction site and channels it down into the collection basin they have down here."
Added Pat Fitzgerald of Columbia Public Works erosion control, "The development community and the contractors that do the earthwork have really gotten on board, and especially after EPA was here and the fines that came out of that. You know, they were doing a good job before, but they really stepped up the level of work they were doing."
"Maybe one incident of stormwater runoff doesn't hurt anything," argued the Sierra Club's Ken Midkiff. "But, when you get 10 or 20 or 100, then there's a major problem. So it's a multiplicity, a cumulative, effect."
When companies like Kelly's Ridge violate stormwater regulations, that hurts the environment. Each year, thousands of pounds of sediment get into waterways such as Harmony Creek, near the development. And sediment chokes streams, which literally chokes wildlife.
"Fish can't spawn," explained Midkiff. "Some can't live, because it clogs up their gills."
The EPA says stormwater runoff is a common problem in fast-growing metropolitan areas. The Sierra Club agrees.
"Some have the attitude that that's progress," added Midkiff. "That's not progress. That's regress."
An EPA statement from June 2005 read:
"Siltation is one of the worst pollution problems in our nation's water bodies. Construction activity greatly increases runoff, which is a leading cause of impairment to nearly 40% of surveyed U.S. water bodies."
Columbia lawyer Craig Van Matre says developers aren't responsible for most of the problem.
"The vast majority of that kind of siltation comes from farming," he said. "Are you going to stop the farmers from farming? It doesn't come from the relatively small acreage that is devoted in any particular time to development."
The EPA isn't the only agency that issues fines for storm water violations.
Missouri's Department of Natural Resources is investigating Campus Lodge along Grindstone Parkway because of possible storm water violations. DNR officials say they can't comment yet if that case will result in fines.
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