Environmental testing of Cedar Lake a go

Iowa DNR paying for study with federal funds

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CEDAR RAPIDS — An environmental study critical to transforming Cedar Lake — an old industrial body of water north of downtown — into a recreational hub has the go ahead to begin next month, Cedar Rapids officials announced Monday.

This comes nearly a year after Cedar Rapids City Council first applied for a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant for a so called phase two brownfield study to test whether toxins exist in the lake sediment. The application was passed over this spring, but EPA officials encouraged Cedar Rapids to apply for funds through the similar, but non-competitive, targeted brownfield assessment program.

Cedar Rapids received word that is a go, said William Micheel, assistant city planner in Cedar Rapids, at a meeting of the Cedar Lake Study Committee on Monday.

The phase one portion of the study, which certifies environmental conditions warrant further testing, has to be recompleted in order to qualify, Micheel said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is covering the cost of phase one and phase two through its brownfield redevelopment program, which is federally funded through the EPA, said Mel Pins, of the Iowa DNR. He said the first phase costs about $3,000 and estimates a phase two cost of $100,000.

“We will use the phase one study as a blueprint for phase two,” he said.

Pins anticipates the phase two study, which will include boring holes to determine hazards, will begin in October or November with a final report by the end the year. The study could be used to determine a remediation plan, if necessary, but that would not be funded by the Iowa DNR, he said.

The phase two study must be complete before the city agrees to take ownership of the 115-acre lake, said Ralph Russell, a member of Cedar Rapids City Council and chairman of the study committee. Alliant Energy used the lake for years to cool the old Sixth Street power plant.

The study is part of the due diligence necessary to avoid liability in the event hazards wind up surfacing years later, Micheel said. The city wouldn’t be responsible for cleaning it up, he said.

A community advocacy group called Friends of Cedar Lake has been pushing for an $8.8 million restoration master plan, including a boardwalk, fishing upgrades, parking, prairie and other features.

Brent Oleson and Ben Rogers, members of the Linn County Board of Supervisors and the study committee, raised concerns that Friends of Cedar Lake leader Dale Todd is getting too aggressive by linking the Cedar Lake project with separate plans for a pedestrian bridge and asking Linn County for $5 million for the two projects, which he did at a previous meeting.

“I’m here to reel you in,” Oleson said.

Russell agreed it is too early in the process — since the phase two study remains incomplete and Cedar Rapids hasn’t taken ownership — to ask for a contribution from Linn County. He also said he doesn’t favor linking the bridge and lake projects.

Todd defended the approach.

“The vision and the plan drive the rest of the project,” he said after the meeting. “Having the vision out in front of these other pieces is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good thing. If we didn’t have a vision nothing would get built in this city.

“We are trying to get this project finished.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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