City seeks EPA study of Cedar Lake sediment

Worry of toxins has blocked redevelopment

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CEDAR RAPIDS — New life looks more possible for the 115-acre Cedar Lake, which sits in an industrial area next to Interstate 380 just north of downtown.

On Tuesday, the City Council here is slated to agree to apply for a $200,000 brownfield grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which, if secured, will pay for a Phase II environmental site assessment of the lake to determine if any toxins are in the lake’s sediment.

Uncertainty about what might be at the bottom of the lake has worked to block the push by the advocacy group, Friends of Cedar Lake, to see the lake redeveloped. For some years, Cedar Lake has been on Iowa’s impaired waters list, but earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources removed it from the list after successive favorable water quality tests. The tests only analyzed the water, not the lake sediment.

City Council member Ralph Russell, who has been working with the Friends, county officials and Alliant Energy representatives on a lake planning committee, on Monday called the pursuit of the EPA brownfield grant “a big step forward” in determining what is in store for the lake.

Russell said he and others on the City Council have an interest in the lake redevelopment, but he said it is important for the city to find out what might be in the lake sediment before the city considers taking ownership of the lake.

Alliant Energy owns the lake, and the utility, as a member of the lake planning committee, has agreed to fund a Phase I environment site assessment of the lake area.

“We are a partner in this project. As such, we did provide funding for the Phase I study,” Justin Foss, Alliant communications program manager, confirmed on Monday.

Russell said a Phase I assessment involves a review of past uses and studies of the property, which he said will provide a road map of what potential toxins might be in and around the lake.

He said the city has had a good track record of seeking and securing EPA brownfield grants. Such grants helped with assessments at the former Sinclair packing plant site, he said.

In November, the city held an open house to seek the public’s ideas about Cedar Lake, and the Friends of Cedar Lake group has held several such events in the past couple of years.

Bill Micheel, assistant director of the city’s Community Development Department, said the open houses have helped the lake study committee come up with a vision for what the lake might provide the community in the future.

Dale Todd, a leader of the Friends of Cedar Lake, said the study of the lake hasn’t moved ahead as fast as he’d like to see.

However, he said the city’s pursuit of an EPA brownfield grant was “the most progress we’ve had in 100 years at the lake.”

Todd credited Alliant with finishing up the demolition of its former power plant alongside the lake, the water from which was used at the plant. Todd said Alliant also has stabilized the lake’s bank near the former plant in addition to funding the Phase I environmental study.

“Alliant has made significant headway,” Todd said.

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