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MSD announces plan to complete $100M Rainscaping program, collaborate with City of St. Louis

Plan to include millions for demolitions

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) announced today a plan to complete $100 million in Rainscaping improvements to much of St. Louis City and portions of near North St. Louis County. MSD will submit this Rainscaping Plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on December 31, 2015. The Rainscaping plan is part of MSD Project Clear, the decades-long, multi-billion dollar commitment that MSD has made to reduce sewer overflows, basement backups, and alleviate many wastewater concerns in the St. Louis region; the plan follows a 5-year Pilot Program that MSD conducted to test Rainscaping solutions. A portion of the complete plan calls for up to $13.5 million to remove hundreds of abandoned, structurally-condemned buildings that present a threat to public health and safety.

The demolition of these buildings will produce dozens of acres of permeable ground, reducing rainwater runoff into the combined sewer system, which meets MSD’s obligations under the terms of a 2012 agreement with the EPA and Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE). The total demolition investment, as with each portion of the Rainscaping Plan, is subject to the EPA’s analysis and approval. The demolition of dangerous, abandoned buildings also addresses a strategic priority for neighborhoods across the City of St. Louis.

The Rainscaping Plan is the culmination of a 5-year, $3 million Pilot Program that MSD began in 2011 to test different Rainscaping solutions. After extensive testing to determine the best solutions for management of rainwater, MSD selected four main priorities of the Rainscaping Plan:

  1. Demolitions of abandoned, structurally-condemned buildings
    1. During the 5-year Pilot program, MSD invested $1.5 million to demolish 221 abandoned, condemned buildings owned by the St. Louis City Land Reutilization Authority.
  2. Neighborhood-scale, MSD-owned and -built Rainscaping solutions:
    1. During the Pilot program MSD constructed 13 Planter Boxes, 3 Raingardens, 13 Soil Amendments, 4 Bioretention cells, and 2 Bioretention Cells with Detention Basins
    2. Total investment of these solutions to date: approximately $1.25 Million
  3. Rainscaping Small Grants to individuals and community partners:
    1. MSD has conducted two rounds to date, and has awarded 59 grants at up to $3,000 per grant, for a total of $155,000
    2. Examples: St. Elizabeth’s Church in the Penrose neighborhood; Soulard Garden Co-op
  4. Rainscaping Large Grants to larger-scale developers and community organizations:
    1. MSD has conducted three rounds to date, and has awarded 21 grants totaling $17 million.
    2. Example: Cortex Innovation District, NE corner of Boyle and Clayton Ave.
MSD Executive Director Brian Hoelscher discusses how the Rainscaping plan will meet MSD's goals to reduce basement backups and sewer overflows, and could positively impact the City.
MSD Executive Director Brian Hoelscher discusses how the Rainscaping plan will meet MSD's goals to reduce basement backups and sewer overflows, and could positively impact the City.

“After years of real-life, in the ground testing, we chose the priorities in this plan because the data showed our efforts worked; not only in the numbers, but in the communities that saw real benefits,” says Brian Hoelscher, Executive Director of MSD. “MSD has obligations in our agreement with the EPA and MCE to address sewer overflows and basement backups, which this plan will meet. But we also see the opportunity to create a greater community benefit by providing a tool to address community needs. The City has long identified derelict, condemned, abandoned buildings as a serious issue for public health and safety in many neighborhoods. Demolition of abandoned and dangerous buildings allows us to meet our own obligations and to provide the City of St. Louis a powerful tool.”

The acres of permeable ground created by the demolition of these buildings will reduce rainwater runoff into the combined sewer system, thereby reducing sewer overflows into the Mississippi River. New construction upstream of Rainscaping projects also receives the added benefit of offsite stormwater management: making new development easier.

Pending EPA approval of the Rainscaping Plan, MSD and the City of St. Louis will work together to determine where MSD’s funds should be spent to remove buildings that have been structurally condemned.

MSD Executive Director Brian Hoelscher; Assistant Director of Engineering Brad Nevois; City of Saint Louis Director of Sustainability Catherine Werner; City of Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay
MSD Executive Director Brian Hoelscher; Assistant Director of Engineering Brad Nevois; City of Saint Louis Director of Sustainability Catherine Werner; City of Saint Louis Mayor Francis Slay

“This is a tremendous opportunity to remove blight, improve public safety, and address stormwater concerns for the future of our City,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay. “The job of government is to prepare neighborhoods for development and provide incentives, but history has taught us that the best and maybe only way to revitalize neighborhoods that have experienced six decades of private disinvestment are through partnerships. I have directed my staff to work closely with MSD in the coming months to identify ways to create the greatest possible benefit to our neighborhoods.”

Hoelscher noted that the history of the St. Louis region shows the benefits that can be achieved when entities collaborate. Created in 1954 out of 79 different sewer districts, MSD itself is a prime example of regional collaboration in St. Louis. MSD Project Clear is an opportunity to generate even greater benefit to the community than could be created alone. Since 2011, MSD has been building and testing rainscaping, seeking to understand how the St. Louis region will best benefit from a Rainscaping program of this size. The Rainscaping Plan MSD will submit to the EPA is the culmination of this work and will set the stage for years to come.

Part of a national trend

St. Louis City currently budgets approximately $1 million per year to demolish structurally condemned, abandoned buildings, which allows them to demolish roughly 200 structures per year.

Demolition investments are part of a national trend to stabilize challenged neighborhoods. The link between demolition investments and positive community impact has been made clear in other cities. According to an Oct. 2015 study by Dynamo Metrics, demolishing abandoned properties increased property values of occupied, single-family homes within 500 feet by 4.2%. The study further supported the contention that removing blight increases community safety, stabilizes home values and reduces foreclosure rates.

Dynamo Metrics report, funded by the Skillman Foundation and Rock Ventures.

Western Reserves Land Conservancy Report, Estimating the Effect of Demolishing Distressed Structures in Cleveland, OH, 2009-2013

What is Rainscaping?

Used effectively, rainscaping can reclaim stormwater naturally, reduce sewer overflows, and minimize basement backups. The purpose of the MSD Project Clear Rainscaping Program is to reduce the volume of stormwater in our combined sewer system by installing landscaping that helps capture rain where it falls, allowing water to run off-site. Rainscaping can also be employed to solve a drainage problem, increase aesthetic appeal, improve property values, and attract birds and butterflies, in addition to other benefits.

View a full-size version of the Rainscaping focus area map.

Rainscaping practices can include features such as rain gardens, bioretention cells, pervious pavement, green roofs, etc., to slow down and soak up the rainwater before it gets to the sewer. MSD Project Clear has designed and built a number of pilot projects predominately in MSD’s Bissell Watershed focus area to analyze which features work best in specific geographic areas.

About MSD Project Clear

MSD Project Clear is the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District’s initiative to improve water quality and alleviate many wastewater concerns in the St. Louis region. MSD Project Clear will invest billions of dollars over a generation in planning, designing, and building community rainscaping and system improvements, along with an ambitious program of maintenance and repair and the disconnection of some residential downspouts in parts of St. Louis County’s separate sewer area from the wastewater sewer line. This work is part of an agreement between MSD and the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

The St. Louis region’s success with MSD Project Clear will only be possible through strong partnerships and clear communications with the public.

To learn more about the MSD agreement with EPA, please visit www.stlmsd.com/our-organization/organization-overview/consent-decree. For more information on MSD Project Clear, visit ProjectClearSTL.org or follow us on Twitter @ProjectClearSTL.

About the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD)

Created in 1954, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) works every day to protect the public’s health and the natural environment through effective wastewater and stormwater management strategies.

MSD is responsible for the public sewer system that homes and businesses connect to through lateral lines. Through a labyrinth of connected sewers, wastewater is transported to one of seven sewer treatment plants – nearly 7,000 miles of sewers in all. That is like going from St. Louis to New York City and back three times! Individual property owners are responsible for another important part of the system, the sewer lateral that connects a home’s plumbing to the public sewer in the street.

Media Contact:
Mack A. Bradley
StandPoint Public Affairs
[email protected]

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