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Residents, councilman have concerns about new proposal for Cliff Cave Park

Twin Hollow Associates again is proposing a deal with the county involving riverfront property south of Cliff Cave Park.

"This is really ridiculous. We defeated this several months ago and they're bringing it up again," said Norm Curran, who lives on Susan Road overlooking Cliff Cave Park's property line.

Curran and other Oakville residents who live on the Mississippi River bluffs in December opposed Twin Hollow Associates' proposed 300-acre donation for the use of a county park and trails, citing concerns over property being brought up out of a flood plain and potentially being prepped for an industrial use.

In a separate agreement with the county, Bussen Quarries was hauling fill or "shot rock" to Cliff Cave Park to raise it about 20 feet up out of the flood plain. Last winter, overlooking residents began to notice Bussen trucks cross the park line and began filling adjacent private property owned by Twin Hollow Associates. That property previously had been used as farmland.

From December to March, residents also posed flooding and other environmental concerns, urging the County Council to reject legislation that would have permitted the land donation by Twin Hollow Associates, which is owned by George Foster. Foster also owns Jefferson Barracks Marine Service, which retains mooring rights by the St. Louis County Port Authority on the Mississippi River, southeast of Cliff Cave Park.

Councilmen neither rejected nor supported legislation permitting the donation, but on March 16 councilmen unanimously agreed to drop the bill in light of resident opposition.

But efforts to bring back similar legislation are in the works. The county Department of Parks and Recreation conducted a public forum last week at Oakville Senior High School to address proposed property additions at Cliff Cave Park.

Permitting Twin Hollow to retain its 100-foot wide mooring rights along the Mississippi River could be contingent upon the land donation/lease, according to county documents and the parks department.

Twin Hollow's proposal would lease 267.96 acres to the county, donate 35.93 acres to the county — adding 303.89 acres to the south of Cliff Cave Park. The donated 35.93 acres would include a minimum three-mile looped trail. The trails would be 16 feet wide and made of crushed stone, and would be elevated more than 3 feet. Twin Hollow would have 180 working days to complete the project at a cost of $545,000. The 267.96 acres, of which the majority is floodway and wetlands, would be leased to the county for $1 a year and would be donated on or before 2014.

The proposed agreement with the county would permit Twin Hollow Associates to access the site with two 50-foot-wide access roads, known as easements. The agreement also allows Twin Hollow to keep four 50-foot-wide easements on the property it plans to donate.

For details regarding the proposed county agreement with Twin Hollow, contact the parks department at (314) 615-5454.

Curran, who organized citizen efforts in December to stop Twin Hollow's land donation, told the Call he and other bluff residents would like more information before they decide to support or oppose the agreement. However, he noted residents are leery of trusting such a similar proposal.

"There are so many easements involved with this proposal. It is very suspicious," Curran said. " ... They are mainly doing this to get to their barges, to get their mooring rights is what it looks like. You just wonder what else is involved since they are going continue to come through Bussen Quarries ... Right away everyone is suspicious of what they want to do."

During consideration of the prior legislation, Curran posed concerns over the easements that had been permitted through Cliff Cave Park since it is a Natural Heritage Park.

A Natural Heritage Park, according to the parks department, is a park that contains "natural biologic, geologic or scenic features warranting protection in the public interest." Cliff Cave Park has been designated a Natural Heritage Park since 1986.

Under the St. Louis County Code, any park construction or development must be limited to 5 percent of the total area of the park.

The department contends that Bussen Quarries' access to haul for two years through the park on granted easements has not violated county code.

"Cliff Cave development does not exceed the 5 percent allowed under the Natural Heritage Park referendum and floodway or wetlands were not disturbed," according to the parks department.

Under the proposed new agreement with Twin Hollow, the company plans to vacate its existing 20-foot wide driveway easement on Cliff Cave Park property, but a 10-foot travel easement would remain.

County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, said that he was surprised to learn Twin Hollow Associates was attempting to donate land to the county again.

"I'm not in favor of it," Campisi told the Call. "And one suspicion I have is the timing of that meeting."

The County Council is in the middle of a three-week break and will not reconvene until Aug. 10.

During the July 28 forum, Campisi criticized the parks department for scheduling the meeting during the council's break and for the department's poor publicity. Campisi was not notified of the meeting until a day before it occurred, he said.

"No one contacted me about this. This was a surprise," Campisi said. "I had no idea this was coming up. I didn't know negotiations were going on. And to find out a day prior to the meeting — I had absolutely no preparation time."

No legislation has been introduced to councilmen regarding the lease/donation as the agreement is in its preliminary stages.

Upon reviewing the information that was available, he said he has many questions regarding the proposal.

Campisi said he has invited representatives from the parks department to speak about the proposal at a town-hall meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Cliff Cave Branch County Library, 5430 Telegraph Road.

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