|Beginning at 7 a.m., trucks haul shot rock to this privately owned Mississippi riverfront property just south of the Cliff Cave Park property line. Mary Byerly, who took this photo, lives on Susan Road and directly overlooks farmland that daily is being smothered in black rock, raising the property 20 feet up out of a flood plain. (click for larger version)|
Oakville residents question riverfront property being raised out of flood plain
Oakville residents who live on the bluffs overlooking the edge of Cliff Cave Park and the Mississippi River want to know why the non-park property they also overlook is turning into a 20-foot-high mass of black rock.
But an explanation given by County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, during a public meeting last week only has raised more questions, a Susan Road resident told the Call.
Residents who live on or near the bluffs — on Susan Road, Bluffsview Court and River Farm Drive or in the subdivisions of Fordyce Bluffs and Greycliff — have been watching for almost two years bulldozers and other trucks haul shot rock from Bussen Quarry to the edge of the park land that fronts the river.
That section of Cliff Cave Park has been closed to raise it about 20 feet out of a flood plain and will be used to build a parking lot and to continue hiking trails, according to county documents.
However, Norm Curran, one of several Susan Road residents who helped organize the Dec. 3 public meeting with Campisi, noticed this February that workers were crossing the Cliff Cave Park property line and were beginning to add the rock to land that is owned by George Foster of Twin Hollow Associates and Jefferson Barracks Marine Service.
Curran's house on Susan Road directly overlooks the property line. Before trucks began to haul the fill daily, he said, the private land had been leased and was used as farmland, which also is in a flood plain.
Curran and other residents of Susan Road told the Call this fall that the mass of black rock the neighborhood now overlooks grows larger daily. Residents are concerned that the private property is being prepared for some type of industrial use, Curran said, noting that neighbors became particularly curious when much of the private property's topsoil was removed and never replaced.
During the Dec. 3 meeting at Point Elementary School, attended by more than 65 residents of Susan Road and other neighborhoods overlooking the river, Campisi announced that Foster wants to donate 283.34 acres to the county, which will be used to form a new county park. Foster will retain a 40-foot section of land along the coast of the property he is donating to maintain his mooring business, Campisi said. Foster also will create a stocked fishing lake for the new park at no expense to taxpayers, Campisi said, but the county would maintain it upon completion.
Legislation that describes Foster's donation to the county was scheduled to be sent to the County Council on Tuesday — after the Call went to press.
"He's hoping to do it by the end of the year for a tax write-off," Campisi said.
However, there are 285.17 acres immediately south of the Cliff Cave Park property line that sit between the park and the land Foster is planning to donate to the county, according to a drawing prepared by Site Development Engineering Inc. that Campisi displayed at the meeting.
Bussen Quarry, he said, is donating the shot rock, or fill, that can't be used for any other purpose, to bring a part of Foster's property that meets the Cliff Cave Park property line out of the flood plain.
The county has asked Foster, Campisi said, to complete filling the property by March 15. On March 16, Foster will ask for a two-year extension to raise the rest of his property and the property he is donating out of the flood plain.
Foster also is donating parts of the land between Cliff Cave Park and the new park so that hiking trails can be connected between the two, the councilman said.
Foster met with the late George R. "Buzz'' Westfall, county executive, and Department of Parks and Recreation representatives in late August to discuss the donation, according to an Oct. 20 letter Foster wrote to Westfall. In the letter, which was not made public until Dec. 1, Foster outlines the details of the donation, which Campisi disclosed during the meeting.
"We would like very much to work with you and St. Louis County in furtherance of the above common objectives," Foster states in the letter. "We would hope in the future to be considered for the granting of certain riparian rights which would be of assistance to the mooring lease we already have established with the Port Authority."
Foster told the Call Monday that he would offer more details concerning his donation at a future date once plans were finalized, noting some details still needed to be worked out with the county.
"This is a little premature. Things are presently on the drawing board," Foster said. "We had discussed with the county giving a parcel of property to give more area to the folks in Oakville for more nature trails and walking trails, but it's still on the drawing board."
He did tell the Call that he currently is not planning any industrial use for the 285.17-acre property he owns between Cliff Cave Park and the land that may be donated to the county.
"We have no plans to develop that property," Foster said. "Anything I would want to put down there in the future, the county would have to agree to it, so the owners shouldn't have any concern."
But residents who attended the Dec. 3 meeting raised many concerns, wanting to know why the property adjacent to Cliff Cave Park, which is not being donated, continues to be raised out of the flood plain.
"I live right above the park and they haven't touched the park in eight weeks. No one's done a thing there," Dan Bierman of Susan Road told Campisi.
"They constantly haul Eucs (Euclid trucks) down there and they fill in Foster's ground. They've filled in more of Foster's ground than any park ground since they started They started this project in February of '02 and they've spent about three times the man hours working on Foster's ground than the park,'' he said.
About eight Euclids are on Foster's property every hour, he said, while other residents noted that they can hear the loud Euclid's and bulldozers begin every day at 7 a.m. and the noise does not stop until 4 p.m.
Residents began to ask why it was necessary for Foster to fill in the land between the donated park and Cliff Cave Park.
"They have to get the trails finished," said Campisi, whose explanation was followed by scoffs and laughs.
Many of those who attended the meeting said they weren't buying Campisi's explanation. It is hard to believe, Curran told the Call, that 285.17 acres needs to be raised out of the flood plain just to connect hiking trails to property further south.
Residents told Campisi that they believed Foster is preparing the property to become an "industrial park," a "casino," a "place to build tanks and machinery," and even a "nuclear power plant" was suggested.
Campisi said Foster's land currently is zoned Non-Urban and most of it is in a flood plain, so there's not much he can do with the property.
But Mary Byerly, who lives on Susan Road and who also helped to organize the meeting, told Campisi that once the land is raised out of the flood plain, it could be zoned for other uses.
Campisi told her that was possible, but he would not let that happen.
"I'm here telling you I'm not changing it from Non-Urban to any light industrial at all. I won't let it happen and it's not going to happen while I'm in office," Campisi said noting land zoned Non-Urban essentially is useless.
When this explanation did not calm the residents, Campisi proposed meeting again with them in January, so that he could invite Foster and representatives from the county Department of Parks and Recreation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bussen Quarry to answer questions.
The public meeting tentatively is scheduled at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Point Elementary School gymnasium, 6790 Telegraph Road.
Residents agreed to meet again with Campisi to give him a chance to gather more information, but they continued to voice concerns over Foster's property being raised out of the flood plain.
One resident suggested an injunction to stop all work until the county determines what is happening, while other residents said that Arnold and Kimmswick could be affected by increased flooding.
Mike Schaeffer of Oakville, whose property overlooks the river on River Farm Drive, told Campisi he is worried about the increased water that will come off the land that is raised out of the flood plain.
"What I find extremely hard to believe is that it's only been 10 years since the greatest flood ever of 1993, and that the Corps of Engineers would allow anybody to come into the flood plain and fill vast amounts of our flood plain, which is needed for the overflow of the Mississippi River,'' Schaeffer said.
He watched the levee break in 1993 and said he remembered standing on his deck and seeing houses float downstream.
"To think that they would tamper with this flood plain, when the flood came within inches of the top in the city of St. Louis is beyond me how the Corps of Engineers could even entertain (this)," he added.
Milton Roody, who also lives on Susan Road, told the Call that there is ugly riverfront in most of north and mid-St. Louis.
"Finally, you go south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge. Where we are is one of the last (un)impeded bluff areas," he said. "It's gorgeous, but you know what? That's the last in St. Louis. When that's gone, there is nothing left.''
He said if Foster is able to continue adding fill, the area will lose its beauty and become "typical St. Louis."
Campisi said that anyone who is interested on receiving updates on information concerning Foster's donation and his property can e-mail the councilman at email@example.com.