Staff Editorials

Time to make Cedar Lake a recreation destination

Daniel Cook (background), a senior environmental specialist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Greg Fuhrmann (foreground), a DNR geologist, use a soil augur to take sediment samples from the bottom of Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, March 2, 2017. The test was the final step in a three-part environmental study to determine whether the lake is clean enough for the city of Cedar Rapids to take ownership of it from Alliant Energy. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Daniel Cook (background), a senior environmental specialist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Greg Fuhrmann (foreground), a DNR geologist, use a soil augur to take sediment samples from the bottom of Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, March 2, 2017. The test was the final step in a three-part environmental study to determine whether the lake is clean enough for the city of Cedar Rapids to take ownership of it from Alliant Energy. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

What a difference a few years can make.

Nearly two years ago this board, just like most Cedar Rapidians, urged caution in the push to transform Cedar Lake into a recreational area, writing: “Getting to the bottom of what’s at the bottom of the lake is the best and most responsible course of action.”

Thanks to the most thorough environmental investigation ever completed on the property we now have a clearer picture of this area’s health, and the picture is bright.

The main body of Cedar Lake is suitable for recreation. Smaller sections closest to the decommissioned coal-fired power plant the water once cooled have improved, but need more testing.

Investigation by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources included more than 10,000 elemental and chemical analysis results, obtained from surface water, soil and sediment samples taken from 80 site locations. The DNR’s assessment that the lake’s waters do “not present a concern for human health exposures” should ease the minds of those still harboring doubts.

Even so, some work remains. Current property owner Alliant Energy needs to gather additional information on the south and west lake cells because of slightly elevated levels of arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Soil management plans and testing must follow future dredging of any lake area. Neither revelation is shocking considering the 115-acre lake languished on a list of impaired waters for nearly three decades.

Stipulations relating to both of these realities can be part of a vital property transfer agreement between Alliant and the City of Cedar Rapids. That transfer will enable the growing membership of Friends of Cedar Lake and ConnectCR to more robustly seek the funding needed to revamp Cedar Lake for recreation and complete a trail project (Sleeping Giant Bridge) that links the area to more portions of this community and beyond.

A 2016 feasibility study of the full project shows a potential of $17.8 million in cumulative new revenue and an increase of 370 new jobs.

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Organizers envision a recreational development that further transforms and energizes an area once devastated by floodwaters. They’ve committed to generating private investment and seeking public funds dedicated to such projects.

It’s time to give that vision a chance to become reality.

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

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