Cedar Lake assessment is needed

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It’s been nearly two years since we first weighed in on the merits of re-imagining Cedar Lake, sitting in the heart of Cedar Rapids, as a recreation destination.

Back then, Alliant Energy, which owns the lake, and the City of Cedar Rapids, which leases the lake, were more wary than ambitious. Alliant was focused on decommissioning a power plant that once used the lake as a source of water. Faced with the prospect of taking over the lake, city officials wondered about environmental issues lurking below its surface.

We said the lake, which is highly visible from I-380 and at the doorstep of downtown, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital, has great potential. But tapping that potential depended on getting a clear picture of the site’s challenges.

It’s remarkable how much has changed since that time. Alliant and local governments have formed a joint committee to explore the lake’s future development. A once small band of Cedar Lake cheerleaders has grown, along with enthusiasm for the lake’s future.

And now, the city is seeking a $200,000 brownfield grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to study the lake’s sediment, long feared to hold chemical contaminants washed in over decades by runoff. It’s an appropriate use of brownfield dollars and we support the grant’s approval.

The possibility of contamination has been a heavy drag on plans for the lake, raising questions about the possibility of remediation, its costs and who would pay. It’s been the elephant in the room during Cedar Lake discussions. For a long time, sentiment for letting sediment lie undisturbed ruled.

But getting to the bottom of what’s at the bottom of the lake is the best and most responsible course of action. It would provide a major missing piece in a full environmental picture of Cedar Lake, where water quality has improved in recent years and advisories for the consumption of fish caught in the lake have been relaxed.

Perhaps the sediment will prove to be less of an obstacle than is feared. But either way, it’s difficult to make plans without all the facts. With a clear-eyed assessment, local leaders can determine a realistic path for development.

So far, that path has led steadily from caution to cooperation, raising hopes that Cedar Lake’s next act will be a success story. We share those high hopes. But first, it’s imperative that local leaders and Cedar Lake backers get the whole story.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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