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Protests precede vote on Buc-ee’s tax agreement

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Springfield City Council on Monday approved a $4.1 million tax agreement with Buc-ee’s Springfield LLC for its 53,000-square-foot, 100-pump gas station and convenience store planned on the Interstate 44/Mulroy Road interchange in the city’s northeast corner.

An infrastructure reimbursement agreement approved by council will allow Buc-ee’s to collect sales tax receipts to reimburse the company for the cost of infrastructure work needed to accommodate the business. Council approved the agreement by a vote of 7-2.

Buc-ee’s officials project annual taxable sales of $30 million, not including gas.

The company will complete $4.1 million worth of interchange work and be reimbursed over a 20-year period by the IRA, which will capture half each of the 1-cent general sales tax and quarter-cent capital improvements sales tax until the reimbursement cap is reached.

The work to be completed includes eastbound and westbound on-ramps and off-ramps, including landscaped roundabouts for each, and improvements to an existing bridge.

At a future meeting, council is scheduled to consider a community improvement district tax incentive to extend city water north of I-44 in the area and complete work on Mulroy Road. Together, the infrastructure improvements’ value is forecast to exceed $9.1 million.

On their way to Monday’s meeting, council members passed a protest mounted by local activist group Dam Up Buc-ee’s, which opposes the convenience store. The organization’s Facebook page is followed by 230 people.

Printed signs held by protestors said they were provided by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. A representative of that organization, Seth Goodwin, spoke during council’s comment period to criticize the investment of millions in a tourist attraction while the city faces other dire needs.

“Social infrastructure is lacking, to say the least,” Goodwin said, noting the measure begs the question of who is receiving returns on the Buc-ee's investment.

The Dam Up Buc-ee's Facebook page urges followers, “Tell City Council: ‘No taxpayer money for Buc-ee’s!’”

Council members addressed what they believed to be a misunderstanding among opponents.

Councilperson Heather Hardinger explained there is not an existing pool of city money that is being given to Buc-ee’s.

“It’s not like this is $9.1 million we have sitting in a bank somewhere that we could have used on other projects,” she said.

Sarah Kerner, director of economic development for the city, confirmed the money is estimated to be generated by the development over 20 years. Currently, no income tax revenue at all is generated at the site.

She said the development is a particularly good use of the tax incentives because it generates dollars from outside the area. Buc-ee’s officials say 88% of their customers come from 20 or more miles away from their stores.

Stan Beard, director of real estate for Buc-ee’s, spoke at the meeting to clarify that Buc-ee’s would be paying up front for improvements, and the infrastructure reimbursement agreement would allow them to be reimbursed through sales tax Buc-ee’s collects.

“Buc-ee’s is the one that is funding the project; we’re just asking for reimbursement because it is public infrastructure,” Beard said. “It does benefit us, but it benefits everyone else as well.”

He added that Buc-ee’s capital investment is unrelated to the infrastructure reimbursement and is expected to be between $50 million and $56 million.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer said he is not always a fan of tax incentives, but he does favor the Buc-ee’s plan.

“I think you’re using dollars that you generate on premises to reimburse for public expenditures,” he said. “I think we’ve got some misplaced distrust of the incentive process.”

Mayor Ken McClure also sought to dispel what he called misstatements and incorrect facts. “This is a revenue source that but for Buc-ee’s being in that location would not exist,” he said.

While council spent a lot of time addressing the tax question, they were less vocal on another concern of protestors outside, and that is how water quality will be impacted by the development.

One protestor, present with a child, held a sign that said, “Protect our watershed.” A list of talking points from Dam Up Buc-ee’s explains, “We are opposed to City Council using $9.2M in taxpayer money to bankroll an oversized ‘gas station on steroids’ that threatens our drinking water.”

Councilperson Mike Schilling attempted a motion to postpone the vote on the infrastructure reimbursement agreement until Feb. 22 to allow more discussion on the proposed development.

“The speculation that it’s going to open up 1,000 acres, perhaps, to future development – I’ve got some questions about that,” he said. “I think we need a more thorough discussion.”

His motion to table was seconded by Hosmer, who said Schilling’s tabling proposal deserved to be considered, but only Schilling and Councilperson Angela Romine voted to postpone the vote. Schilling and Romine also were the only two council members to vote against the reimbursement agreement.

Beard told council Buc-ee’s has never had a reportable spill, and he said the company’s systems are state of the art.

“You name it, if it’s safe, we do it,” he said.

The Dam Up Buc-ee’s group points out the gas station will be built near Fulbright Springs, which supplies up to 17% of Springfield’s drinking water.

“Any stormwater runoff or potential gas leak could eventually pool into and contaminate our drinking supply,” the talking points state.

The group maintains even small spills at the pump are dangerous as their effects are cumulative.

“The extensive amount of impervious surface and associated runoff, in conjunction with the high volume of vehicular traffic, will deposit high levels of sediment, toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other pollutants into our waterways and drinking water,” the group states. It asks for an environmental impact study to be conducted and made public to assess the risks.

Hardinger asked for an explanation of the potential for water pollution, and John Chamberlain, a geologist with Kimley-Horn Engineers, said the site has two stormwater detention ponds, one to the north and one to the south, and the south pond is significantly oversized. The south pond contains the Buc-ee’s site and also about 9 acres of Missouri Department of Transportation right-of-way, according to Chamberlain.

“We’re decreasing stormwater runoff from about 99 cubic feet per second down to 31 – so it’s about a 70% decrease in stormwater volume that would be leaving the site,” Chamberlain said. “We have made significant improvements to stormwater.”

He added the runoff is routed through two storm sewer systems to separate any hydrocarbons or other pollutants that may enter the flow.

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user22756

Good job, City Council!

Now, if only you could convince White Castle to bring a franchise to our fair city...

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