Some Sugar Creek streams have turned dark, muddy and birdless.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
An erosion problem at a new elementary school has had a catastrophic effect on nearby streams, according to a letter signed by the citys public works director.
Mud from construction has flowed over temporary silt fences, covered city streets and settled in the beds of the communitys small streams. The sediment, which is visible downstream several blocks west of the school, has chased off the invertebrates that ducks and herons often could be seen feeding on, according to one longtime resident.
The city is pressing the Independence School District and its contractors to correct the problem, and the school district has promised a timely response.
Fall grass seeding and sodding and other plantings on the property will aid immensely in prevention of further erosion, Nancy Lewis, district spokeswoman, said in a statement last week.
Still, some wonder how it could have happened.
Water flows downhill, said Bill Haman, Sugar Creek resident and former volunteer stream evaluator trained by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Its not that complicated.
Matt Mallinson, Sugar Creek mayor, said he is satisfied by the districts response to stabilize the school site, address needed infrastructure upgrades around the facility and clear the mud out of the communitys streambeds.
If anybody is making the school district out to be a villain, I dont see that, said Mallinson.
Mallinson, elected this April, also serves as vice president of the Independence Board of Education. The new school is named for Abraham Mallinson, a Jackson County pioneer and ancestor of the mayor.
But he perceives no conflict of interest in addressing the current erosion problems, Mallinson said.
As school board members, we are not directly overseeing projects like this, he said.
Sugar Creek, much of it built on hilly terrain in northern Jackson County, long has had drainage and stormwater challenges.
But these were compounded, city officials believe, with the building of the new school. Its construction, which began last year, didnt include sufficient erosion and stormwater controls, according to a Sept. 6 letter signed by Ed Layton, public works director.
The damage has been done, Layton wrote.
The city is calling for the district and its contractors to stabilize the site and also prepare an environmental assessment and cleanup plan for the nearby small streams.
Along with the letter, the city submitted observations from its own experts, including Elizabeth Arasmith, city engineering consultant.
Arasmith wrote that the sediment released into two small creeks downstream from the school have formed harmful bottom deposits, resulting in toxicity to animal and aquatic life, adding that it had effectively destroyed the habitat in the streams.
Before construction began, one stream that flows through Sugar Creeks Harrison Park ran clear, according to Mark Stefancik, a city public works facilities maintenance worker. Pools in the creek often contained crawfish and frogs, he wrote. But no longer.
The creek that once supported life is now one long mud slick, wrote Stefancik.
The same fork used to be visited by great blue herons, said Haman, the former leader of a stream team that monitored water quality in state creeks and streams. Mud stretched across much of that forks bed last week.
The same conditions prevailed in a larger stream that Haman identified as the Elizabeth Street Tributary, which runs beneath a bridge at Elizabeth Street, several blocks west of the school at 709 N. Forest Ave. There, Haman climbed down into the creek bed and pointed out drifts of packed mud that restricted water flow.
At still another spot, a block to the southwest, Haman noted where the brown murky water of the tributary met the less cloudy water of Sugar Creek, which flows from there to the Missouri River.
All this mud has just smothered what used to be a very rich environment, said Haman.
Haman has proposed the school district organize new stream teams of students from William Chrisman and Van Horn high schools.
But site stabilization must come first, he said.
That began recently, said Lewis of the school district. Heavy rains this fall have delayed seeding, she said. Grading work continued on the site Wednesday, with seeding following Thursday.
The Independence School District, (with contractors) R L Duncan and JE Dunn Construction, have been working closely with the Department of Natural Resources and the City of Sugar Creek to develop a plan, Lewis added.
JE Dunn, which served as construction manager, is assisting the district in an advisory capacity on the erosion-control issue, said Emily Fors, company spokeswoman.
Beyond initial site stabilization, the city has been calling for infrastructure upgrades around the school, such as a fence around a northern detention basin and road repair where water has been ponding.
Mallinson said that work is being discussed by the school district along with the stream cleanup.
Erosion issues may have been aggravated by efforts to open the school in August, he added. There was a time factor, he said. You cant put grass seed down on a 104-degree day and expect it to grow.
He also sees no conflict of interest in dealing as Sugar Creek mayor with the school district, he added.
He also said he was careful not to be involved in the districts purchase of the property for Abraham Mallinson Elementary. To build the school, the district purchased about 20 acres from Mallinsons father, John.
Anytime that was discussed, I was excused from school board meetings, said Mallinson.
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to email@example.com.