“This is frustrating and upsetting,” said Mitch Leachman, director of the St. Louis Audubon Society.
So what’s angering him? Backhoes and bulldozers uprooting tree after tree at St. Louis County's Creve Coeur Memorial Park, known as a nature park.
Leachman said this work shouldn't be happening.
“They're telling us that it's a project for storm water drainage,” said Leachman. However, he and others believe it's really an end run around the law that’s being done for another reason.
"Everything we are looking at says it's for the St. Louis Ice Center,” he said.
The St. Louis Ice Center: It certainly sounds like a wonderful idea. If built, this state-of-the-art facility would have four rinks to be used as a training facility for the St. Louis Blues and also by the public.
The idea is being spearheaded by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and other organizations.
But the project’s developers have faced a hurdle in the location they’ve chosen.
It was funded with money from the National Park Service that was given to St. Louis County with the condition that “the land…be used for outdoor recreation.”
However, most agree that the ice center would primarily be an indoor facility. As a result, its developers need permission from the federal government to start construction, something the St. Louis Partnership admits still hasn't happened.
Yet in July, work on the land started.
So what was going on?
In early June, the CEO of the St. Louis Partnership sent a letter to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources proposing work at the site "for storm water management improvements" that would also improve "outdoor recreational requirements."
A few weeks later, the DNR approved the idea and that work soon began.
However, the letter also says, "the planned project would benefit the proposed ice center."
“It's very obvious what the intent is” said architect Charles Bell.
He viewed the work site in Creve Coeur Memorial Park with 5 On Your Side Investigates reporter Maria Hallas.
“This site right now doesn't need maintenance for storm water” said Bell. “It's a grassy site that did have trees in it and rain that falls in the site is naturally handled.”
On the other hand, Bell said “if you walk the perimeter, you can see that (it) is the exact same shape as the intention of the development site. They're developing the infrastructure to create this ice complex.”
So we met with CEO Sheila Sweeney of the St. Louis Partnership.
She maintains that the purpose of the recent work was first to maintain and enhance the park itself.
“This does enhance the park, irrespective of an ice center and will mitigate some of the water flooding conditions that happen,” said Sweeney.
But if that's the case, why remove trees from the land, something that can help control flooding?
“I don't know the engineering of it, so we could find that answer out,” answered Sweeney.
Why pick a spot in a natural park to build the ice center?
“For me, it is the enhancement of a park and it’s in the perfect spot. That's why I think it should go there,” she said.
But for Mitch Leachman: “It doesn't matter whether you think this facility should be built or not it doesn't matter whether you believe it should be here or somewhere else.”
For him, the issue and the questions are about wanting to have faith in public leaders and our system of government. Which is why he is so bothered by documents like the work permit issued by Maryland Heights to the construction crew that was working in the park.
Under its description of work, it reads: "Construction of an Ice Center located at 13750 Marine Avenue"
Finally, Partnership CEO Sweeney said more than 75 percent of public commentary has been positive about the ice center. She also claimed that if the ice center is built, it will only cover two percent of the park.
However Mitch Leachman and others claim that many similar developments have often led to more and more "repurposing" of natural park property.
Meanwhile a national park service acting chief told KSDK that the agency is looking closely at the events at Creve Coeur Memorial Park.