Acquiring Cedar Lake opens possibilities for downtown vision

Council vote key piece in making ConnectCR a reality

The sun sets April 16 on Cedar Lake. The City Council voted Tuesday to acquire the lake just north of downtown, a key st
The sun sets April 16 on Cedar Lake. The City Council voted Tuesday to acquire the lake just north of downtown, a key step in revitalizing it into a recreational area and part of a larger project through downtown. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — City Council member Dale Todd, who also served in the early 1980s, said he came across an old master plan for Cedar Lake from 1981.

Tuesday, he was part of a City Council that brought a vision for revitalizing the cooling pond for Alliant Energy’s former coal-fired power plant to the verge of reality by approving the city’s purchase of Cedar Lake for $1.

“If anything, this demonstrates to council that good projects happen over time,” Todd said. “They don’t just sit on a shelf somewhere. And, we understand we are the stewards of public property.”

Todd said the $20 million ConnectCR project, a privately-led effort to revitalize the lake and install a pedestrian bridge called the Smokestack bridge south of downtown, would be a “boon” for the community.

The vote to acquire the lake paves the way to design the revitalization project for kayaking and fishing, adding trails and other uses; to apply for grants available only for public property; and to position the city to move forward with flood protection around the lake and surrounding industrial area.

While private contributions make up the majority of the ConnectCR budget, the city has committed $1 million per year for five years to the overall project and agreed to take over management of the lake by its parks department.

The transfer leaves the city liable for any lingering environmental issues. The lake has been subject of years of testing, and based on that city officials have said they are comfortable with the condition of the lake and assuming risk.


The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has said the lake is safe for human use, but Dan Cook, senior environmental specialist for the agency, said Tuesday he remains concerned about ecological risks to fish and microorganisms throughout the lake due to toxins carried into the lake from stormwater runoff, largely through the Kenwood ditch and McLoud Run.

Because no one responsible party exists for stormwater runoff, no party can be held responsible for the ecological risks, he said. However, if a responsible party existed, he would have required additional testing, Cook said.

The sale applies only to the north portion of the 120-acre lake, which is the vast majority of it. The city eventually plans to acquire the south portion from Alliant, too. Alliant plans to conduct additional testing before submitting a work plan to the Iowa DNR to address remaining issues there, Cook said.

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