The Riverpointe, Bangert Island and Katy Trail areas just south of I-70 in the city of St. Charles have changed significantly during the past six months, and should change even more in the next six months.
Although still far from a manicured site, dilapidated and flood-prone buildings have been razed. Trees have been felled and major utility relocations are well underway. Additionally, the first 7 acres is pad-ready. Development and environmental improvement plans now depend on final approvals, which are expected in the next 30-days, and favorable weather for spring, summer and fall.
Riverpointe Phase 1 included filling and raising land close to I-70 above flood plain level and preparing it with public infrastructure for development. It also included clearing trees for the entire planned Riverpointe area. Over the past few months, the city has continued to market the site, which city officials expect to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment in the region. At the same time, economic and development activity in St. Charles City and County have begun recovering from pandemic effects. Developers now are actively pursuing new projects, including growing interest in Riverpointe.
However, not everyone is happy. Riverpointe still is very much a work in progress and looking every bit the construction zone it still is.
In April, Robert Greve of the STOP Riverpointe activist group contacted Mid Rivers Newsmagazine to express concerns about what has happened so far.
Greve provided two photos to illustrate what he said is “a pretty stark contrast of what’s occurred at the Katy Trail as a result of Riverpointe.”
“I took the ‘before’ photo and a volunteer scientist who has been helping resist this development, Scott George, took the ‘after’ photo of the same area,” Greve said.
The photos show a significant clearing of trees along the trail.
“My understanding is the project has not received full approval (e.g. permits) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, yet the city has proceeded with clearing of the forested areas where they can. So it seems the city of St Charles is expecting approvals.”
Greve claimed that the destruction of natural habitat now in plain sight has sparked a 25% increase in membership in the public Facebook group, “STOP Riverpointe.” But he said, “That’s bittersweet given how much of the damage is already done.”
Greve believes there are two things he sees going forward that his group can still achieve:
First, hold the city of St Charles accountable to their own tree preservation ordinances, such that the majority of the trees are replaced immediately, or funds are provided to the “Tree Bank of the City” to fund the replacements over time.
Second, advocate for the city of St Charles to consult with appropriate environmental experts and follow their recommendations to ensure an appropriate natural buffer between Bangert Island and Riverpointe is maintained, such that the ecosystem there is not harmed further by the development or commercial activities that follow.
Greve said he is planning to convert the STOP Riverpointe group to a new Facebook group named “Sustainable St. Charles.” He believes this will provide a forum for any stakeholders in St. Charles to be able to discuss local situations, events and share environment-related news, tips, etc.
Regarding the city’s redevelopment plans for the area, Greve said he has a lot of respect for the city’s engineers and what they are doing with the challenging mission they have. However, he also said, “Off-setting the deforestation and filling of wetlands with credits, planting and creating wetlands elsewhere is necessary, but still falls short in a world creeping toward irreversible climate change. How long does it take those tree plantings to reach the same plant mass of the mature trees cut down?”
“There’s a similar issue with the manufactured wetlands reaching maturity, as well as functioning the same as a natural wetland,” he said. “Something they simply cannot address is the displacement of local wildlife.
“The irony of this news being set in a world hoping to call itself ‘post pandemic’ soon, is that displacement of wildlife causes greater frequency of contact between humans and wildlife … increasing the chance of … you guessed it, pandemics. Forested areas are simply more important than most seem to understand, or there’s a degree of ‘ignorance is bliss,’ and public policy as usual is lagging behind the curve.”
Greve said he is not “anti-development.”
“I actually practice commercial real estate, but we have got to do a better job protecting our environment for future generations. We can develop just about anywhere,” he said. “Why do we need to deforest and fill floodplains?
“I’m hopeful having the group ‘Sustainable St. Charles’ continue on beyond Riverpointe can help guide St. Charles towards a better environmental future.”
In early May, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine connected with Dan Mann, assistant city engineer for the city of St. Charles, to obtain his views about current status and near-future plans.
Mann confirmed that Riverpointe Phase 1 has progressed as expected, with the “original 7 acres now filled in and sitting above floodplain (and) with grading done to prepare for development, with necessary public infrastructure in place, plus Ameren UE facilities for electric power.” He said the city is marketing the site for development, but it is too soon to discuss at this time.
Regarding the appearance of the Katy Trail today, Mann said, “The city owns Bangert Island Park, but land along the creek/river has been acquired by the city for redevelopment. The Katy Trail in that area is only about 20 feet away from a major arterial, Arena Parkway. About 20,000 cars buzz by riders on the Katy Trail every day. The buffer of trees to the west of the trail was very thin. The ultimate goal of this project is to relocate the trail further away from Arena Parkway to provide a much better experience for trail users.”
He acknowledged that removing trees in that area was expected to drastically change the view along the trail.
“The city was diligent in the investigation of endangered species in the area, including bald eagles, bats and plant species,” Mann said. “We worked with a team of environmental scientists on an environmental justification for any changes affecting the river, streams, wetlands and trees.”
Mann said they found no endangered bats living in the trees. He said the Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife said the best action would be to take down trees before April 1, while the bats still were living in the river bluff caves, so that is what was done. He explained that the Corps of Engineers then goes out to confirm if the environmental justification is accurate.
The city has partnered with Land Learning Foundation to build 15 acres of wetlands near Labadie Bottoms, in addition to preserving 100-acres of Preservation Easement on Bangert Island itself to offset the impacts of Riverpointe.
“The city now has received a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, certifying that water quality will be acceptable when planned filling-in is done for land beyond the original 7 acres of Riverpointe,” Mann said.
The next step is for the city to receive a CWA Section 404 permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), confirming water quality within the project. Mann said they anticipate receiving that permit in the next 30-days.
Then, the city can proceed with removing trees already cut down and with filling in and grading more land planned for subsequent Riverpointe phases, and with planting trees as planned.
Riverpointe’s near future depends on discussions with developers about options and plans, which have already begun. Much will depend on the outlook developers and businesses have about a post-pandemic world.
Mid Rivers Newsmagazine previously published stories about Bangert Island and Riverpointe on July 8, 2019, June 30 and Dec. 1, 2020, and Jan. 19, 2021.