Quality concerns: Perryville officials worry regulations could hurt growth

Monday, February 11, 2013
An underground stream flows through the Berome Moore Cave on Dec. 2 near Perryville, Mo. The cave is the one of the habitats of the Grotto sculpin, a species of fish that is found only in Perry County. (ADAM VOGLER)

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- There's something in the air in Perryville. And in the water.

City officials say the community has expended extensive resources -- to the tune of about $350,000 so far -- to respond to state and federal air and water quality regulators amid worry that tightened environmental restrictions could hurt existing industry and suffocate future growth.

Perryville learned in September that a tiny fish believed to dwell only in underground cave streams in Perry County may be designated an endangered species. In a settlement agreement reached in September with the environmental group Wild Earth Guardians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to evaluate 400 species, including the 2 1/2-inch Grotto sculpin, for possible addition to the endangered list.

The grotto sculpin is a cave dwelling fish believed to be found only in Perry County, Mo. Is under consideration to be added to the endangered species list.

If it were granted endangered-species status, the Grotto sculpin would be protected against habitat destruction because of pollution, overuse of the caves for recreational or educational purposes and inadequate monitoring systems.

Fish and Wildlife Service biologists documented two mass die-offs in the cave systems in the past decade because of pollution from a single source entering groundwater. There are many sinkholes in the Perryville area that once were used by many for waste disposal. The city already manages 400 of them to prevent contamination and sediment from hurting the underground ecosystem.

Stalactites and stalagmites are seen in the Berome Moore Cave on Dec. 2 near Perryville, Mo. Stalactites are a type of cave formation formed on the ceiling by dripping water, often in caves. They are similar to stalagmites which form on the floor. (ADAM VOGLER)

Celeste Vanderbrugen, southeast region community development specialist for the University of Missouri Extension, said Perryville chose to work with the service by creating a Community Conservation Plan to demonstrate a commitment to responsible land stewardship and, it is hoped, avoid heavy regulation. She was charged with taking them through the process of drafting plans to keep clean the groundwater that seeps to underground caves, she said. The area had to prove it had a history of caring for the natural habitat, the ability to leverage funds and experience creating and executing plans in order to be eligible for the collaboration, she said.

Vanderbrugen estimated $350,000 has been spent on the plans so far, including efforts made by the city, county, area businesses and community volunteers. At last count, 479 individuals have had input, she said, and planning will continue and include public comment through mid-March.

"There's not an expert that can do this, because it is a community process," Vanderbrugen said. "At some point they are going to need some offset in cost and other items to just help them get through."

About 89 percent of the proposed protected Grotto sculpin habitat area property is privately owned, which includes land containing the Perryville Industrial Park. The other 11 percent is owned by local government.

Air-quality issues

Stalactites in the Berome Moore Cave near Perryville, Mo. Stalactites are a type of cave formation formed on the ceiling by dripping water, often in caves. They are similar to stalagmites which form on the floor. The cave is the one of the habitats of the Grotto Sculpin, a species of fish that is only found in Perry County. (ADAM VOGLER)

The area already was embroiled in years of air-quality issues. In 2008, an air-quality committee was formed in response to Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommendations that Perry County be designated a "nonattainment area" because of higher-than-allowed ozone readings at a monitoring station on Route C near Farrar, Mo., the southernmost of 23 across the state.

Pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds emitted by industry and motor vehicle exhaust contribute to the formation of ozone. Exposure to ozone causes a variety of respiratory problems for people and can damage vegetation and upset ecosystems, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

With the designation could come stricter air pollution standards and increased regulations for local industry, said David Grimes of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission, who heads the air committee.

Under existing policy, new industrial construction and "significant" expansions are required to meet the "Best Available Control Technology" standard, Grimes said, meaning they are required to use the best available, off-the-shelf technology in controlling emissions. If an area is designated a "nonattainment area," the default standard becomes the "Lowest Achievable Emissions Rate".

"This [the Lowest Achievable Emissions Rate] is the 'money-is-no-object standard.' Whatever the best technology to reduce emissions, even experimental technologies, regardless of cost, will be required," Grimes said, which would eliminate the area from consideration by potential industry because of the expense.

"They will go to some place that does not have those particular hoops through which to jump," Grimes said.

Standards upheld

The Environmental Protection Agency considered lowering the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone of 75 parts per billion to 60 or 70 parts per billion, but decided in 2011 to uphold the guideline until 2013.

In 2012, the Farrar monitor exceeded the guideline 14 times, and the region was accepted into the EPA's Ozone Advance program, designed for places in danger of becoming nonattainment areas. The program required the development of an awareness campaign, which the committee called the Path Forward, aimed at convincing local people to change their everyday actions toward reducing emissions. In the most recent air committee meeting Jan. 25, Grimes and Perryville Mayor Debbie Gahan expressed uncertainty about what the committee could achieve, given its limited power to enforce guidelines. The plan is under collaborative review by the committee and the EPA.

Good-faith effort

Grimes said he hoped their work would be recognized as a good-faith effort by the EPA when the ozone standard is next reviewed. Action on the Path Forward is slated to begin by the time the ozone season starts in April. The season typically runs from April 1 though Oct. 31.

Perryville city administrator Brent Buerck said the regulations already in place have made routine operations complicated.

"Simply moving dirt for a project often requires us to check with everyone from the Corps of Engineers to historic preservation," he said. "Although we have been able to comply, each level of review adds both time and cost to the project."

Gahan said the federal mandates from various environmental regulations are burdensome, but the city has few choices but to comply.

"We will have to do what they say we need to do," Gahan said, "and many times this creates not only a perception that it's going to be another layer of federal bureaucracy to deal with every time [a business] would want to do something, but it's costly. We get unfunded mandates from the federal government all the time."

On the flip side, Vanderbrugen said the efforts the city and county have made could be a benefit in the eyes of potential industry. Not every community is able to pull together and have a history of solid practices to fall back on, she said. Existing area industries are already successfully meeting the highest standards, she said.

"They are able to handle it, come together, not further divide, and make it work," Vanderbrugen said. "I'd want people who are going to work like that with me."

Email and phone messages left Friday morning with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife representative working with Perryville, Shauna Marquardt, were not returned. Email and phone messages left late Friday with EPA representatives were not returned.



Pertinent address:

Farrar, Mo.

Perryville, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: