Study clears way to negotiate Cedar Lake ownership transfer

Main body of water is suitable for recreation, further tests needed in other cells

Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids. (Gazette File Photo)
Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids. (Gazette File Photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Negotiations over the terms of a letter of intent to transfer Cedar Lake from owner Alliant Energy to Cedar Rapids are likely to begin in June, a city official said Tuesday.

The transfer is a key piece logistically to raise money and seek grants to restore the lake just north of downtown from an old cooling pond for a coal-fired power plant into a local recreational asset, officials have said.

“We will look at what each party will commit to in terms of different things we’ll do between now and the transfer of property,” said Bill Micheel, Cedar Rapids assistant director of community development. “The city will want to finalize the uses the city wants out there and the phasing, and define what Alliant will do before engaging in the property transfer.”

Terms of transfer were among items discussed during a meeting Tuesday between officials from City Hall, Alliant and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The meeting was to discuss findings of a long-anticipated site assessment report about sediment and water quality in Cedar Lake.

The study, released by the Iowa DNR last week, reports the main body of Cedar Lake is suitable for recreation now, but Alliant must conduct further tests in the south and west cells.

In addition to the further exploration by Alliant, any alteration of the lake, such as dredging, would require more studies and a soil management plan, said Mel Pins, executive officer of the Iowa Brownfield Redevelopment Program.

Alliant spokesman Justin Foss said the energy company will await a letter from Iowa DNR detailing more specifically the types of testing needed. Foss said Alliant would comply with what the agency requires.

A group called Friends of Cedar Lake has been advocating to restore the lake, which supported the decommissioned power plant on Sixth Street SE for decades. A master plan calls for an $8.8 million restoration to open the lake for fishing and kayaking and enhanced aesthetics. The proponents have called for dredging.

“We are pleased with the results and acknowledge there is more work to do, but after many decades of sitting idle this gives us a road map for future progress,” said Dale Todd, Friends of Cedar Lake president.

Representatives from the Friends group, the city, and Alliant have been working on a Cedar Lake study committee to discuss the real estate transfer to the city, the recreational enhancement and clean up.

The lake has long been seen as blight and previous testing found toxins.

City officials considered the environmental study as due diligence to identify liability before taking ownership.

The study did not reveal high levels of chlorinated pesticide and polychlorinated biphenyl — or PCBs — Pins said. But slightly elevated levels of arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were found in the south and west cells of the lake, he said.

Those elements are associated with the “burning of oils, coal or other organic substances.”

“We are going to ask the owner to do some more work,” Pins said. “It doesn’t mean it is terrible or immediate work is necessary, but we are going to ask them to do the work.”

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