CEDAR RAPIDS — Mayor Ron Corbett said the past Friday that a letter to the city from the director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is a boost for advocates who want to see Cedar Lake next to downtown transformed from an industrial blemish into a recreational magnet.
The letter from DNR Director Chuck Gipp tells Corbett that the state agency is “excited” about the work of the Friends of Cedar Lake in trying to build community interest and DNR support to restore the 115-acre lake.
The work of the Friends is on the right track to put Cedar Lake in a position to qualify for the DNR Lake Restoration Program, Gipp states in the letter.
Corbett said it was “a positive step” for Cedar Lake enthusiasts to have the DNR advocate for them.
The mayor said, too, that the letter comes at a crucial time as the City Council is preparing in the months ahead to decide on a final plan for flood protection on both sides of the Cedar River.
In the council deliberations on east side protection, Corbett said the council will decide if it will continue to support the city’s 2008 “preferred” flood-protection, which calls for east side flood protection to continue north of the Quaker Co. plant to protect Cedar Lake, some residential properties near Coe College and a section of the Shaver Road NE industrial area.
Instead, the council could decide to settle for the Corps of Engineers’s partial protection plan for the east side of the river, which stops just above the Quaker plant and does not head north and protect Cedar Lake, the mayor said.
‘A new level’
The Friends of Cedar Lake, led by Dale Todd and Felicia Wyrick, insist that Cedar Lake needs to be protected from the Cedar River to prevent regular flooding into the lake, which continues to deposit sediment, making the lake increasingly more shallow.
The DNR’s Gipp told Corbett that Cedar Lake can’t qualify for state restoration funds without the lake being protected from flooding and the sedimentation that comes with it.
The mayor said the DNR’s Gipp also said that the DNR’s restoration program requires that a lake in the program be owned by a public entity, and Cedar Lake currently is owned by Alliant Energy, which leases it to the city for $1 a year.
Corbett said he is “very open to discussing” public ownership of the lake. Alliant, he said, no longer needs the water from the lake for its coal-fired steam-energy plant, which was damaged in the 2008 flood and is in the process of being demolished.
He said Alliant is in business to produce energy, not to restore lakes. Parks and recreation is the work of public entities such as the city, county and the state, he said.
“Having public ownership could take the whole restoration of the lake and property around it to a new level,” the mayor said.
A central impediment to investment in Cedar Lake has been its history of poor water quality, which over the years has required the state to caution people to limit their intake of fish caught in the lake.
“No one knows about the liability,” Corbett said. “People speculate. But each and every year the DNR has upgraded the water quality.”
A key question is what toxins might be stirred up if the lake is dredged — which the Friends of Cedar Lake say is vital for the lake’s restoration.
The Friends’s Wyrick said on Friday that one priority is to conduct an environmental assessment of the lake bottom to see what is there.
“Why not quantify it?” said Wyrick, a member of the city’s Parks, Waterways & Recreation Commission, “Maybe it’s not that big a deal.”
Corbett didn’t disagree.
“It’s just part of the process, going through an environmental review,” he said. “A hands-off approach doesn’t move the lake restoration issues forward.”
The Friends’s Todd and Wyrick said they will be asking local elected officials to push state lawmakers to continue to fund the DNR’s Lake Restoration Program so money will be available when Cedar Lake is ready to ask for funds.
Corbett said he repeatedly is asked by local residents about the city’s plans to clean up Cedar Lake.
“More than 65,000 cars see it every day from Interstate 380,” he said. “There’s not a person who doesn’t look out on the horizon and see the lake and the ash pits next to it. And it’s not very pleasant to look at.”