Winter Brothers project spurs comments on flooding

The+city+of+Sunset+Hills+provided+sandbags+to+residents+impacted+by+flooding+in+2017.+Volunteers+responded+in+force+to+the+city%E2%80%99s+call+to+fill+the+sandbags+at+Watson+Trail+Park%2C+above.

The city of Sunset Hills provided sandbags to residents impacted by flooding in 2017. Volunteers responded in force to the city’s call to fill the sandbags at Watson Trail Park, above.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com

A presentation by Winter Brothers Material Company about plans to raise its 15-acre property a foot above the Meramec River flood plain generated concern about future flooding among some residents at last month’s Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen meeting.

So far Winter Brothers, a sand and gravel mining company, has brought in 6,000 cubic feet of fill to the company’s property on Old Gravois Road to raise it for the future construction of building pads — part of a vision for a larger industrial park.

The company submitted a concept plan to the Planning and Zoning Committee in May of last year and all necessary permits were granted in the summer, including a flood-plain development permit. The project was also approved by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.

But the question on everyone’s minds last month was how, if at all, the project would increase flooding along the Meramec.

“As you’re aware, Sunset Hills has had flooding issues in the past. Will your project have any negative flooding effect on residents and businesses in Sunset Hills?” Mayor Pat Fribis asked Winter Brothers engineering consultant Marty Henson.

“No… we are beyond the floodway line… established by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) maps… And that floodway line basically restricts the flood plain to that point that if you put fill inside that, you cannot raise the water surface more than one foot,” replied Henson. “We are outside that by several hundred feet, at least more than a hundred… We are not filling a whole lot in the flood plain… Flood plain storage is not one of the significant factors that cause flooding.”

Henson added that the company’s previous work along the Meramec River had not contributed to the flooding that occurred in Sunset Hills in 2015, 2017 and last year.

“So there would be nothing that you’re doing that would create flooding now that wasn’t here before? Do you have any idea why and how … you have flooding that we haven’t had for years now taking place in businesses that are in that general area?” said Ward 4 Alderman Thompson Price.

“Hydraulics and hydrology is a very complex subject… There’s a lot of variables that you have to take into consideration,” said Henson, who studied at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. “If you just take rainfall intensity by itself, you have to understand we’ve only been monitoring what rainfalls are for the last hundred years… So what might be a hundred-year rainfall in our hundred years might be insignificant when you look at the Earth’s whole existence.”

Henson’s answers did not satisfy some of the residents who came to speak about the Winter Brothers presentation during public comment. However, by the time public comment came up on the agenda, Henson and other representatives from Winter Brothers had left the meeting.

“I’m a little bit concerned over this Winter Brothers. Just in the last three weeks, I figured out what was going on… Was Winter Brothers grandfathered? Did they already have this plan done 10, 12, 20 years ago, or was this a new plan that they brought up?” said Gary Player Drive resident Joseph Layet. “Why are we allowing them to bring dirt in to make it flood more? I sure hope this city is not becoming a pay-to-play town, because I feel right now that’s what going on with this Winter Brothers thing. How did we let this get through?”

Resident Bridget Lutman, who had previously contacted the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency over her concerns about the Winter Brothers project, claimed that the industrial park was being done in secrecy.

“When we built our buildings 20 years ago we were not allowed to bring in outside fill. Why the changes? … This whole project was done in secrecy. Where were our aldermen? We counted on you,” said Lutman. “You’re going to end up making this whole area a blighted area. We pay a boatload of taxes and what are we getting for it? … To say this is not going to affect us is ridiculous.”

The concept plan for the industrial park had been discussed at the May 2019 Planning and Zoning Commission. Further discussion took place at the July planning panel meeting, where Winter Brothers’ plan for tree removal from the 194-acre site was approved, according to a city memo. The Parks and Recreation Board also recommended tree removal at its own July 2019 meeting. The disturbance and fill activities were approved administratively around the same time.

Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong sought to have an ordinance drafted that changes construction requirements in flood plains and enacts a “zero net fill” policy. His suggestion faced pushback, however, from other aldermen, who wanted to wait until a meeting with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on flood plain management the next week, with the intent to draft an ordinance based on the Corps’ findings.