The Herald Bulletin

March 16, 2013

Officials express qualified support for proposed reservoir

Cook family says Mounds Lake could be 'game changer'

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

CHESTERFIELD, Ind. — Rumors of a reservoir on the White River have been around for years, says Rob Freestone.

“I first heard about it from my grandfather in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” the Chesterfield Town Council member  said on Friday. “He always said there would probably be a reservoir there someday.”

Long-standing rumor might now become a real possibility with the announcement Thursday that Madison County economic development officials are proposing a seven-mile long, 2,100 acre reservoir on White River in Madison and Delaware counties.

“As far as the town council goes, we’re very excited about it and are on board,” Freestone said. “You have to look at the pluses versus the negatives. I think the pros outweigh the cons on this one.”

He envisions marinas, boat docks and restaurants.

Town Clerk Deborah Dunham sees empty storefronts replaced with thriving businesses.

“They were bold enough to step up to the plate,” she said of Rob Sparks, executive director of the Madison County Corporation for Economic Development. “I believe they can make it happen.”

From Anderson, through Chesterfield, Daleville and into Delaware County, the concept of Mounds Lake Reservoir has captured the imagination and preliminary support of business owners and government leaders.

“At this point I am super positive about this,” said Anderson City Council President David Eicks, D-At Large. “I think it has the ability to reshape Anderson, Chesterfield, Daleville and Delaware County.”

He knows the displacement of homeowners and businesses will cause emotions to run high, and that those discussions will have to be handled delicately.

But he added that the reservoir could improve the quality of life throughout Central Indiana.

“Not very many communities are ever going to have a project that can transform their community the way this one could,” he said.

Daleville Town Board Vice President Bill Waters said officials there are scheduled to receive a detailed briefing on the project next week.

“It could be a very positive thing,” Waters said, but he wants more information about who would be affected and how all the enormously complicated details would be worked out before giving the project his unqualified support.

Likewise, Delaware County Commissioner Sherry Riggin, who assumed office in January, called the proposed reservoir “very interesting.”

Riggin said she’s concerned about how relocations would be handled.

“We don’t want to keep good water from reaching people, but I sure hate to see people lose their homes,” she said.

Code named “Project Oasis” when first conceived in 2010, Mounds Lake would rely on the White River for its water supply.

A 2,500-foot-long, 50-foot-earth dam would be built just east of East Lynn and 18th Streets in Anderson, backing water up in Delaware to around County Road 300 South and South High Banks Road.

Mounds Lake would control billions of gallons of water in Central Indiana, and help relieve the impact of floods and drought through a 400-square-mile area of the White River’s watershed, according to Sparks.

Although initially seen as an Anderson project, “it has grown and now has the ability to transform not only Madison and Delaware Counties, but all of Central Indiana,” Sparks said in a statement.

Public access to Mounds Lake, plus the addition of trails, wildlife and new homes and businesses would improve the quality of life throughout the region.

Moreover, the $350-$400 million project “will become a catalyst for new investment and employment opportunities for generations,” Sparks said.

An initial study found no fatal flaws in the project, now officials are ready to move forward with a second study that will include engineering and environmental reports. The study will take about six months to complete and cost an estimated $300,000.

Two local businesses Friday — the Virgil Cook family, which owns the Mounds Mall, and Steve Madinger, who owns Texas Roadhouse on Scatterfield Road — released statements in support of the project.

“We have a vested interest in Anderson since this has been our home for many years,” said the Cook family statement. “This project has the potential to be a game changer for Anderson. We believe in Anderson and want nothing more than to see it prosper.”

The family said it has owned the mall property for more than 60 years and understands the concerns and questions many people have about the proposed reservoir.

“We have been very impressed with how Madison County CED has handled those concerns and potential questions to date.

“We believe this project is in very capable hands and all concerns will be answered before this project is green-lighted,” the statement continued.

In addition, even though the proposal is in early stages of development, the family said it has been working on plans for a new mall in Anderson to serve the community if the project is approved.

“As owners of Texas Roadhouse and longtime Anderson residents, we would like to express our support for this project,” Madinger said in a statement.

“Our restaurant is located within the proposed reservoir area, requiring us to relocate our business pending approval of the project. While this will require a great deal of work on our part, we believe in the future of Anderson and that this project represents a good move for our businesses and for the community,” Madinger said.

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.