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Landowners And Environmentalists Divided On Maryland Heights TIF Plan To Reduce Flooding

Landowners and environmentalists expressed opposing views on the Maryland Park Lake District TIF proposal at a packed public hearing on Nov. 21, 2019.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

The Maryland Heights Tax Increment Financing Commission could soon approve a plan to use tax money to build pumps and levees in a frequently flooded area near the Missouri River. 

City officials and the urban planning group PGAV Planners propose to redevelop the Maryland Park Lake District. That’s a 2,215-acre agricultural area near Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park that is protected by the Howard Bend levees. 

Officials want to create a $151 million TIF district to build pumps and other infrastructure to drain the area when it floods. Multiple severe floods in recent years have motivated city officials to push the plan forward, said Jim Carver, the city’s economic development manager. 

“We’re trying to create a healthier and safer place for people to be,” Carver said after a public hearing held by the Maryland Heights TIF Commission on Thursday night. “You can’t do that when it floods every year or every other year.” 

TIF helps finance redevelopment by using a portion of the tax revenue generated from the project after it’s completed to repay bonds.

Several landowners with property in the Howard Bend Levee District, which includes the Maryland Park Lake District, expressed support for the TIF proposal. The landowners are tired of dealing with frequent flooding that’s occurred since 1993, said Dale Boggs, who owns a driving range, mini-golf course and farmland in the area. 

“We’re taxed,” Boggs said. “Us down there, the levee district and everybody, can’t go forward without some kind of pumping help.” 

Some area residents spoke in opposition to the idea of subsidizing development in the floodplain. Creating a TIF district is not the right way to resolve flooding issues for landowners, said Tony Armstrong, a Maryland Heights resident. 

“If they want to pump, maybe they should pay for the pump,” Armstrong said. “They moved their businesses in there. It shouldn’t be on the backs of our schools and our fire districts.” 

Environmental groups Great Rivers Habitat Alliance and the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club say the TIF district will make flooding worse in the St. Louis region. City officials are preparing the area for commercial and residential development that shouldn’t occur in the floodplain, said David Stokes, executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance.

“They’re going take thousands of acres that will no longer be able to hold water and design a pumping system and internal levees and all this stuff that’s going to move the water out, so that when we have the next flood, they’re just going to devastate somebody else,” Stokes said. 

Weather forecasters predict an above-average snowpack in the Missouri River basin this spring, which could mean more flooding for the St. Louis region in 2020. 

The attempt to turn the area around Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park into another Chesterfield Valley may have some benefit for Maryland Heights, but it won’t help the St. Louis region, Stokes added. 

“It might be good for Maryland Heights in the long run, but it won’t grow the economy in the region,” Stokes said. “Academic research shows that these development projects done by tax subsidies at a municipal level don’t grow an economy.” 

The Maryland Heights TIF Commission will continue the public hearing on Dec. 18. 

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.