CEDAR RAPIDS — Saying Cedar Lake is environmentally sound for kayaking, fishing and other uses envisioned in a master plan to convert the lake into a recreational hub, Cedar Rapids officials are recommending the purchase of the lake for $1 when the City Council meets Tuesday.
This would mark a key procedural step in a yearslong effort to revitalize the longtime cooling pond for an Alliant Energy coal-fired power plant just north of downtown, as well as providing access for the city’s flood control system.
Documentation from the Department of Natural Resources “shows all of the activities in the ConnectCR project are safe and good to go,” said Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director.
Long term, improvements to address water quality, including mitigating stormwater runoff into the lake via the Kenwood ditch and McLoud Run, and potentially dredging the lake are anticipated. But no part of the master plan requires environmental cleanup, she said.
The resolution to buy the lake from Interstate Power & Light Co., which is the legal name of Alliant Energy — the owner of the lake — is on the consent agenda when the City Council meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. The consent agenda is reserved for noncontroversial and procedural items.
The city has been leasing the lake from Alliant since 1982 for $1 a year. Once the city acquires the lake, it would become part of the city parks department, and the city would become responsible for maintenance and oversight.
At this point, the city would be acquiring only what’s referred to as the “north cell,” which is the majority of the 120-acre lake. The city eventually plans to acquire the south cell, but has no plans to acquire the small west cell, which has multiple owners, Pratt said.
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Meanwhile, flood control features are expected to wrap around the lake, and city officials say portions of the lake are needed for right of way, permanent easements and temporary construction easements.
Alliant Energy and the city had long said the city eventually would take ownership.
“This has been a long time in the making,” Terry Kouba, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa energy company, said in a statement. “We’re excited to see this area continue to be developed,”
Public ownership of the lake is essential to bringing the revitalization to life, advocates of lake restoration have said.
“It’s more than symbolic,” said Mike McGrath, chairman of the ConnectCR steering committee. “When the city owns it, we can begin engineering in earnest. We never thought Alliant wasn’t going to turn it over, but they hadn’t yet. It is hard to begin a project of this magnitude with land you don’t.”
ConnectCR is a $20 million privately led effort to restore the lake, build a pedestrian bridge dubbed the Smokestack bridge over the Cedar River south of downtown, and improve the trail connections between the two.
McGrath said as a public body of water, they can apply for state grants they would not otherwise be eligible for, and it shows the “whole community the city’s commitment to ConnectCR.”
So far, the project has more than $14 million in commitments. The city has agreed to provide $5 million over five years, and the Hall-Perrine Foundation has pledged $5 million as a matching grant. Several big-name employers have contributed more than $4.5 million to a $7 million fundraising campaign called Awakening Connections.
Previous environmental testing showed the lake is safe for human use, and conditions are safe for uses outlined in the master plan, such as fishing and kayaking.
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Sampling showed elevated concentrations of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, in the west lake, which received the outflow of the power plant, and lower concentrations in other parts. Toxins such as chlordane, banned pesticides and PCBs — which are consistent with stormwater runoff — showed up in higher concentrations near the Kenwood ditch and McLoud Run and lower concentrations in the west portion, according to Iowa
“We understand the environmental challenges, but as a community we are making the choice to address those,” said Dale Todd, a City Council member and longtime champion of the restoration. “At the end of the day, there’s a bunch of sediment in there that needs to be removed for continued sustainability of the lake. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It happens all across the country that communities step to the forefront and deal with it.”
He said the acquisition “elevates (the project) to a new level. It lets people know the dream is closer to reality.”
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