Like many in our community, I first reacted to the proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir with disbelief. The project had proceeded in secret for over two years before the privately financed Phase I study results were revealed to the public. Many residents attended a well-choreographed presentation of the proposal at a community meeting in Chesterfield, Daleville or Anderson. Although it was billed as a “forum,” the presentation was actually a view of the proposed reservoir through rose-colored glasses.
The main reason that many Madison County residents find the reservoir appealing is that we can imagine an economic bonanza resulting from its development. However, we will not benefit from recreation, lake-front home construction, or flood control unless the developers decide to allow it. Eagle Creek Reservoir (Indianapolis) and Prairie Creek Reservoir (Muncie) have not been economic engines. Privately owned reservoirs don’t operate under the same rules that apply to the Army Corps of Engineers, so no economic development is guaranteed. We should be cautious about forfeiting 7-plus miles of free-flowing river to a for-profit corporation outside our county. Anderson doesn’t need the water because our supply comes from underground aquifers, but Hamilton County has added 90,000-plus residents since 2000 according to the Madison County Alert, and is getting thirstier. (http://www.madisoncountyalert.com/2013/03/indy-water-arrives/)
In addition to the lack of oversight by and guarantee of economic gain for Delaware and Madison counties, three environmental challenges need to be addressed by developers: 1) the number of former dumpsites (six at last count) that would be adjacent to or flooded by the reservoir, 2) erosion, sewer overflows, and illegal county drains upstream of the reservoir that already degrade White River water quality , and 3) one-third of Mounds State Park, including a legally protected nature preserve, would be lost. New trails would destroy much of the park that wasn’t flooded. Protection of the 2000-year old Adena-Hopewell earthworks cannot be assured. Wildlife habitat and much of the wildlife it presently supports would be destroyed.
As a longtime paddler and observer of the river, I know that large numbers of people already use it for recreation and renewal all seasons of the year. I am saddened that so many others are quick to dismiss the value of a resource that they are barely acquainted with. I’m concerned that dissenting comments have been stifled at public events when so much is at stake. I find it curious that uniformed officers are often present in force when the Madison County Corporation for Economic Development gives public presentations. It has had a rather chilling and intimidating effect on well-intentioned attendees with valid questions. As we evaluate the wisdom of permanently altering our local river and destroying its unique ecosystem, we should take off the rose-colored glasses. Much of what we stand to lose cannot be measured in dollars and cents.