By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — People still have more questions than answers about the Mounds Lake Reservoir project, and Rob Sparks thinks many of them will be answered with a second in-depth study.
Sparks, executive director of the Anderson-Madison Corporation for Economic Development and chief sponsor of the proposal, has spent a long summer working to secure financing for that study, which will determine if the project is feasible or not.
"I'm hoping within a few weeks we will have the funding in place to advance the field work that needs to be done," Sparks said in an interview late last week. He declined to identify what organization would provide funding, but sources familiar with the project said it will be a combination of grants and private donors.
"I wish it was already in place," he said of the $600,000 needed for the study. "We need to bring this first phase into focus. A lot of people are hanging in limbo."
Anderson City Councilwoman Donna Davis, D-District 2, couldn't agree more.
The Irondale neighborhood, two mobile home parks and dozens of businesses that would be flooded if the reservoir is built all lie in the heart of her council district. Like them, she's anxious for answers and wants to provide her constituents with accurate information.
"I've had a lot of people email me asking what's going on," said Davis. "Right now, I don't know if it's feasible or not. We don't have a study. Their life is on hold until the study is done. They want to know if they're going to have to move, if they're going to get full value for their homes."
The second study — which will take about six months to complete — will cover engineering, environmental and community impact, all of which have been major questions raised by public officials and critics alike since plans to build the reservoir became public early this spring.
Mounds Lake Reservoir would begin at a dam in White River just east of East Lynn and 18th streets in Anderson, backing water up seven miles into Delaware County to around County Road 300 South and South High Banks Road. The 2,100-acre pool would capture about 13 billion gallons of water in central Indiana that could help minimize the impact of future droughts and floods here, while providing drinking water to meet the future needs of metropolitan Indianapolis. Preliminary estimates are that the reservoir will cost between $350 million and $400 million to build.
A community planning component was added to issues to be addressed in the second study following information meetings in Madison and Delaware counties. Sparks expects public meetings will be held primarily in Anderson, Chesterfield and Daleville, and cover community impact along the river corridor, the creation of public spaces, land use and recreation possibilities.
An engineering component will cover cost, impact on transportation and infrastructure and the complex technical details of construction. The environmental part will address brownfield issues in the river corridor as well as the impact on fish and wildlife habitat.
While officials prepare to undertake this work, deep skepticism about the project exists.
The Heart of the River Coalition, a group made up of local and statewide organizations, remains highly critical of the reservoir because of the impact it would have on one of the White River's most scenic stretches of water, as well as the impact on wetlands, wildlife habitat and old growth forests that would be destroyed.
While the organization has not taken an official stand on Mounds Lake, "I think it's fair to say we're skeptical and have a lot of questions," said Clarke Kahlo, an activist who helped organize the coalition.
Answering these critical questions is the point of moving forward with the second phase of study, according to Sparks.
"The sooner we get to the end of this road of whether we're going to proceed with this project, the better it will be for the community," he said.
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What's Next Anderson-Madison Corporation for Economic Development Executive Director Rob Sparks believes a Phase II study of the proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir will answer many of the cost, engineering, environmental and community impact questions that surround the proposal. He hopes to announce in the next several weeks that funding is in place to begin that study, which will take about six months to complete.