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March 16, 2013

Irondale residents ponder their homes underwater

ANDERSON, Ind. — As you walk down 17th Street in Irondale neighborhood, you’ll find the property of a longtime resident who has devoted time and capital to making the house a home. Just one lot over, you’ll find an abandoned, dilapidated shanty, with trash and debris strewn across the porch.

This is the state of Irondale now. It’s a dichotomous atmosphere containing devoted owners whose families have lived in the neighborhood for generations alongside itinerant renters. It’s a mixed bag of situations and stories. In many ways, it’s a microcosm of Anderson. Interlaced with the peaceful, small-town element is ruin and squalor. There’s an uncertainty about the community. And now its future is even more uncertain.

In another 10 years, the area could literally be underwater.

Irondale and some neighboring communities are expected to be engulfed by a proposed 2,000-acre reservoir on White River in Madison and Delaware Counties. The idea of the project, dubbed Mounds Lake Reservoir, was officially released Thursday by Madison County Corporation for Economic Development Director Rob Sparks. The project would cost an estimated $300 million to $350 million and would stretch from East Lynn Street in Anderson east by northeast around Chesterfield and Daleville and into Delaware County.

The reservoir would also displace an estimated 400 homes, a thought that kept 41-year-old Irondale resident Brent Hager awake the night he heard about the project.

“I’m not happy at all,” Hager said. “I’ve invested time and money into this neighborhood, and I know everyone around here.”

said Hager, an avid photographer, He said he loves the area and will often snap pictures of sunrises and sunsets around the neighborhood. He woke up Saturday and drove the small community and found himself haunted by a thought.

“I’d be 50 feet underwater here if they made that reservoir,” Hager said.

Champions of the proposal also hope it will bring economic benefits like tourism and increased property value. Sparks made it clear community cooperation would be necessary to move the project forward, but Hager and a number of other residents said they’d be very upset if the plan came to fruition. Property compensation would be part of the deal, but Hager said that’s just not enough.

“They won’t give me the time I put into this house,” Hager said.

But Hager’s opinion isn’t the only one in Irondale. Some think the reservoir is a good idea. But a prevailing feeling is confusion and uncertainty. Many aren’t clear on the details of the projects, and they’re unsure whether it will be beneficial to the community. Much of the community is elderly and has been rooted in the area for decades and for many of them, moving isn’t feasible, even with compensation.

Camilla Kidwell, 73, has only been living in her house for about eight years, but it was previously the childhood home of her deceased husband. She said the home has emotional value for her because of what it meant to her husband, and she likes the neighborhood.

Kidwell has mixed feelings about the benefits reservoir proposal, but personally, it would mean leaving her home.

“Most of the people here have been around for a while, and we’re just not in a position to leave,” Kidwell said. “It’s been our home all our lives.”

A few residents, mostly younger renters, felt the reservoir would be a great quality of life and commerce boost to Madison County. Mark Rees, 39, has rented a home in Irondale for about six months but has lived in Anderson all his life. Rees said a major project like the reservoir could revitalize a depressed community like Anderson.

“I think it’d be fantastic. I love to fish and hunt and I think it would be great for things like that. Plus it would bring people to the area,” Rees said. “It certainly couldn’t hurt.”

Others are trying to take a practical view of the reservoir. Steve Mills, 45, has lived in his home for 15 years, and before that it was the home of his wife’s family for decades. He’s raised his three kids and put them through high school while living in Irondale. The neighborhood has been good to him and he likes living there, but he said he understands that renovating the landscape could be for the better.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do. I’m sure they’d do it with the good of the community in mind,” Mills said.

Mills commutes to his job in Noblesville every day. He said he doesn’t like the idea of moving, but he’s confident he and his family would bounce back.

“We’ll do what we have to if it comes to that,” Mills said. “You’ve got to have a group of people to hold something together, right?”

Find Jack Molitor on Facebook and @AggieJack4 on Twitter, or call 640-4883.

Public meetings on reservoir will be held

According to Corporation for Economic Development Director Rob Sparks, the Mounds Lake Reservoir Project is still in a propositional phase, and a series of public meetings for each of the units that will be affected will likely be scheduled in the next month.

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