Residents question study that led to approval of stadium property sale

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - One day after Columbia city council approved the sale of the Capital City Stadium property, critics of a proposed development there are questioning an impact study that led to the move.

Residents attended a public forum Wednesday night at Columbia City Hall where they learned more about the potential impact that retail development could have on the Rocky Branch Creek which flows nearby.

Dozens of people packed the forum armed with questions about the study, including Vi Hendley, who has lived in the nearby Olympia neighborhood since the mid-1980's. She knows all too well the flooding problems the Rocky Branch Creek can cause and has trouble believing a major development on the Capital City Stadium property won't make flooding and water- quality issues worse.

"We're moivng ahead with the sale of a floodplain without a full study of the watershed," said Hendley.

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For more than 90 minutes, engineering firm AMEC Environment and Infrastructure explained the results of a three-month study commissioned by the city. AMEC representatives say the development plans, which include a possible Walmart surrounded by other stores and restaurants, could be implemented "without significant impacts" to flooding and pollution.

"The reality is this site has been studied more thoroughly by more people than any other site because there's such a sensitivity by city council and staff," said Andy Reese of AMEC.

Even after the question and answer session some residents and members of the recently created Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance, which includes USC scientists, are critical about the findings.

"Their report is 26 pages or something like that. There's no way that you can cover all the details of such a complex system like this in such a short time," said USC geologist Dr. Allan James.

A vote on the sale of the stadium property was put off for months while the city commissioned the study, heard input from residents and the Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance.

The sale was utlimately approved Tuesday after a motion by Mayor Steve Benjamin, who attended Wednesday's information session as a quiet observer.

Benjamin and other city council members argued keeping the project in limbo any longer would not be fair to the developer.

"I firmly believe that we have been deliberative. This council's been patient, it's been communicative," said Benjamin after Tuesday's vote. "We've listened to all sides. Not just two sides, but, several sides to the argument."

Residents like Hendley argue residents should have been given more time to share their concerns before the move was made.

"(City council)should've at least let us vet the study. What is two weeks in a major developer's life?", asked Hendley. "I think they (AMEC) made clear that you have to study the entire watershed and address it as a whole before you start adding to the problem. We've just added to the problem by selling the property."

It could be up to a year before a single shovel of dirt is ever moved on any project at the stadium property. AMEC representatives pointed out Wednesday that the burden is now on the developer to adhere to the plans on which the impact study was based.

AMEC offered to address any concerns the public might have about impacts on the Rocky Branch Watershed as some money from the $100,000 study commissioned by city leaders is still available for research.