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Health, Science, Environment

MSD knocks down empty houses to build green spaces, reduce rain runoff

Workers for the Metropolitan Sewer District begin to demolish a house on Greer Avenue as a part of program to turn vacant properties into green spaces in March 2017.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
Workers for the Metropolitan Sewer District begin to demolish a condemned house on Greer Avenue as part of a program to turn vacant properties into green spaces.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District has started demolishing abandoned buildings to kick off a $13.5 million project to build green spaces in the city.

The Urban Greening Program is a part of MSD’s $100 million initiative to divert rainwater from entering the city’s sewers and contaminating local waterways. It’s also a key portion of a settlement agreement in 2012 with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency that requires the sewer district to spend $4.7 billion over the next two decades on improvements to sewer systems in St. Louis and St. Louis County, a larger effort called Project Clear.

The first 11 properties to be removed are located in the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood in north St. Louis, an area that’s had issues with rainwater runoff. MSD plans to remove 200 condemned buildings by the end of this year, with a longer-term goal of demolishing nearly 1,000 in the coming years. The Land Reutilization Authority owns more than 11,000 parcels in St. Louis and spends nearly $1 million tearing down abandoned buildings every year.

“We don’t want these buildings,” said Mayor Francis Slay, at an event today announcing the Urban Greening Program.

“But when private owners walk away and abandon them, we have no choice and most often, we get them in very bad condition. That’s not a fair burden to place on taxpayers, which is why we’re focused on projects like this one.”

MSD also plans to remove 50 acres of impervious surfaces, which include rooftops, sidewalks and roads that can’t absorb rainwater. When rain comes down on streets and sidewalks, it picks up debris and chemicals and carries them into rivers and streams. In times of heavy rains, that can cause sewer overflows, which further pollutes those waterways.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, 22nd Ward, grew up on Greer Avenue, where demolition began today. Sewage overflows, flooding and abandoned buildings have long been issues in his home neighborhood.

“If we make these derelict buildings disappear and we have beautiful green space, that’s a big plus,” Boyd said. “But down the road, I’m hopeful that we can revitalize this neighborhood and replace a lot of the vacant property with new homes and really bring this community back together.”

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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