By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Madison County Corporation for Economic Development Director Rob Sparks, in an exclusive interview Thursday with The Herald Bulletin, released details of a proposed project to establish a seven-mile long, 2,000-acre reservoir on White River in Madison and Delaware counties.
Mounds Lake Reservoir, which would cost an estimated $300 million to $350 million to create, would stretch approximately from East Lynn Street in Anderson east by northeast around Chesterfield and Daleville into Delaware County, ending just north of Delaware County Road 300 South. The reservoir would flood an area around Anderson’s Scatterfield Road that includes the Mounds Mall property and other businesses.
Sparks estimated that it would displace about 400 homes, as well as several hundred thousand square feet of current retail business space. Eminent domain could eventually be invoked to bring the project to fruition, but Sparks stressed that a strong community consensus would have to be achieved for the project to be realized.
Benefits of the reservoir, according to Sparks, could include provision of a “central Indiana water resource,” better flood control, the establishment of prime real estate for on-the-reservoir housing, higher property values and additional economic development. The reservoir could also provide recreation, such as bike paths, fishing and other activities with public-access points.
Enough land would be acquired for the project to be completed, but property would not be purchased for future development.
“I think we have a good chance to get this project done if we have the political will,” Sparks said Thursday.
Sparks agreed to discuss the project with The Herald Bulletin after rumors concerning the reservoir became rampant on social media.
The idea was first suggested by Ricker Oil Co. President and CEO Quinn Ricker during a Leadership Academy of Madison County class in 2010. Sparks was also a participant in that class.
Ricker concedes he thought the idea was “nutty” when he first suggested it. But two weeks later, Sparks told him the concept, while massive, difficult and costly, might not be so far fetched and was worthy of study.
“It’s not incremental; it’s transformational,” Ricker said Thursday. “It’s one thing we can do right now that would accelerate where we want Anderson to be by decades.”
Sparks shared the concept in February 2010 with the Madison County Council of Governments, which performed mapping of the White River Watershed.
He then asked DLZ, an engineering firm with an office in Indiana, to review the mapping data in late 2010. Near the end of 2011, DLZ presented a study, Sparks said, with a preliminary conclusion that the reservoir was feasible and that no “fatal flaws” in the plan had been discovered.
By August of 2011, Sparks had collected about $100,000 in donations from “local statesmen” to develop a conceptual plan and cost estimates. Sparks said the City of Anderson has also provided support for the project with direct funding, grant money and in-kind support that Sparks valued at less than $175,000 total.
Because Anderson, Chesterfield, Daleville and Madison and Delaware counties would all be affected, Sparks thinks a regional commission would be the best way to manage the reservoir’s development.
Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith said he’s been aware of the concept for about a year. But Smith said his administration has played no role in the project’s development and that it wasn’t a factor in his Anderson Fast Forward Annexation proposals. Sparks said he first discussed the idea with Kris Ockomon, who was Anderson mayor 2008-11, and that the Ockomon administration was supportive of developing the proposal.
“It’s an interesting project,” Smith said Thursday. “Obviously, this has some long-term ramifications for the City of Anderson. It sounds logical, and its seems viable for the city.”
He noted that the project’s scope would be challenging, but he said such an attraction would make Anderson a recreational destination and improve the city’s quality of life, drawing new housing and retail opportunities and other economic development to Anderson and surrounding areas.
Sparks said the reservoir is far from being a done deal.
The next step in the reservoir proposal process, according to Sparks, will be a series of public meetings for each of the taxing units that would be affected. These meetings would be used to disseminate information and answer questions from the public. Sparks said the meetings would likely be scheduled within 30 days.
Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.