What downtown sewer projects really mean for Columbia

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia City Council is moving forward with more than $5 million for downtown sewer relief projects.

Some residents are concerned about the necessity of these projects, and want to know were the money to pay for these projects is coming from.

The ordinance, passed July 21, states these projects will not use debt spending, as the money to be used is already in existing city accounts. The ordinance also states these projects will not impact sewer maintenance costs since these projects are specifically building new sewers that will replace existing ones.

In total, $5,780,794 will be set aside to "increase downtown sewer capacity" from Turner Avenue to the Flat Branch watershed, as well as from Stadium Boulevard to Elm Street to 6th Street. Another $194,794 will be reallocated to stabilize a section of stream bank to protect the North Grindstone Outfall Sewer.

This project was originally scheduled to begin construction this year, but the city council postponed the project until FY2015 to make more funds available for Flat Branch Watershed relief projects.

Here is a list of where the funding would come from:
• $2,161,138 from the Sewer Retained Earnings balance
• $150,000 from Collegiate Housing, due to the project's impact on the proposed Opus apartment building
• $2,074,862 in combined transfers from various accounts of projects that have either been completed, delayed, or postponed
• $1,394,794 from the FY2015 city budget, upon approval

Some residents have expressed frustration about these projects, specifically because the work done between Elm and 6th would accommodate a 256-bedroom apartment complex proposed by Opus developers.

Grass Roots Organizing (GRO) is a Missouri organization dedicated to protecting human rights. Aaron Johnson, with the Columbia GRO office, has been fighting this development. He argues spending city money to allow for a luxury apartment, as opposed to affordable housing, is not acceptable.

"This is just an example of corporate luxury housing that's not really helping the city," Johnson said. "It's an out-of-state developer that's coming in...it's going to have more impact on the city's infrastructure than just here and now."

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said these projects are larger than the Opus development.

"Downtown has constantly, when you look at the CID reports that we get, they've consistently been bringing in more revenue and more businesses, and more activity, so that certainly helps out the community as a whole," Nauser said.

Nauser said the infrastructure downtown in some areas in close to 100 years old, and has caused problems for residents in the area. 

"The system as a whole needs to be repaired," Nauser said. "Rainwater is getting into our sewer system, which is helping facilitate these basements backing up and raw sewage coming from some of our manholes."

Nauser also said slowing down growth is not a message Columbia wants to send to potential businesses. She mentioned the University of Missouri as another determining factor in her decision to approve this ordinance. 

"We have a partner in the University of Missouri," Nauser said. "They are a big economic engine in our community. They have said they are going to continue to increase their enrollment, irregardless of what the city does, whether we work to help with that or we work against them. I would prefer to work with them and be a partner so that our community can continue to grow and be vibrant."