Columbia leaders approve flood study on Cap City Stadium land

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - On Tuesday night, Columbia leaders took the next step in the potential development of the old Capital City Stadium property.

City council voted to approve a study on the impact any potential development in the area will have on already existing flooding and water-quality issues. For months, leaders have been in discussion with developer Bright Meyers about a possible big box retail development on the site along Assembly Street. Bright Meyers has a history of working with Walmart.

Ever since word got out late last fall about possible development on that parcel of land, environmental advocates have worried that a major construction project could intensify flooding issues from the Rocky Branch Creek. Heavy rains cause the creek to overflow, washing out streets and businesses from Whaley Street near the USC campus to Columbia's Five Points.

On Tuesday, city council approved an agreement for Georgia-based company AMEC Environment & Infrastructure, Inc. to review Bright Meyers' proposed development plans and possible solutions that will address the flooding issues that have long plagued the area.

"A watershed is very complex and integrated," said Ryan Nevius of Sustainable Midlands. "You can't do one thing in a watershed without affecting the entire watershed, even if you just pave a parking lot."

The Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance was formed shortly after news of the possible development reached the public. The group is made up of environmental advocates, concerned businessowners, USC representatives, along with city and county engineers looking to ensure the long- term health of the watershed and region years down the road, with or without a project at the Capital City Stadium property.

Some in the group had concerns that the study commissioned by Columbia leaders Tuesday would be too narrow in its analysis, ignoring potential water-quality, floodplain and upstream and downstream flooding issues. However, Councilwoman Belinda Gergel asked that those key issues be included in the report, which could cost up to $100,000.

A memorandum from AMEC to Columbia officials dated February 10 says the primary emphasis of their study "will be on the proposed changes to the floodplain for the Assembly Street site, which includes impacts to and remedies for upstream and downstream locations...this will also include considering the assessment of water quality conditions...AMEC will also provide input on watershed management issues and strategies."

Since the Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance was formed late last year, members say city, county, and university officials have been meeting to discuss solutions about long-term improvements for the watershed on a nearly weekly basis. They say a study conducted on Five Points flooding and the Rocky Branch watershed in the last decade was largely ignored, and the Capital City Stadium project has helped put the issue back in the public eye.

"We almost have to say thank you for them bringing this to our attention and for the developer to say we have a problem, but we're going to fix it and Columbia's going have great water-quality," said Nevius. "So let's move forward and see what we can do together."

Members of the watershed alliance point to Charlotte's Metropolitan development as a way to better manage flooding and stimulate economic growth. During Tuesday's council meeting, councilwoman Belinda Gergel urged other city officials to tour that area with her to learn more about long-term land management solutions that could possibly help Columbia's flooding issues.

The study on the parcel of land on which Capital City Stadium sits, the surrounding area and watershed should be complete by May.