Overall, an excellent summary of the critical points, although Professor Hicks neglected to give due recognition to the hard-working coalition of grassroots folks (comprised mostly of politically-powerless “average citizens”, environmentalists, etc.) who, for 2.5 years, painstakingly organized and educated their communities and elected officials about the dam plan. Their efforts, in addition to those of “many prominent local business leaders”, were key.
Hicks: Lessons of Mounds Lake project downvotes
Two town council votes this month ended any realistic chances that Mounds Lake would ever be built. The very timely demise of this proposed 2,100 acre reservoir in Madison and Delaware County offers some useful lessons.
The lake, which would submerge portions of the City of Anderson and extend up the White River to Yorktown was first proposed as an economic development panacea. Without any supporting analysis (or apparent legal advice), the supporters of the project approached the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA with the plan. They also requested state funds to perform the first round of a feasibility study. Funding analysis of regional economic development efforts is a wise and appropriate use of state dollars. Without that support, many problems would not have surfaced.
The preliminary feasibility study was underway when the Corps of Engineers and EPA walloped the initial plans. As any novice environmental lawyer can attest, it is illegal to dam the waters of the United States for local economic development. So, upon release of the feasibility study the purpose of the dam miraculously changed from economic development to water supply.
A singular problem with this approach is that the potential buyers of water in central Indiana publicly stated they neither needed nor wanted the water. A second problem was that the preliminary feasibility study either omitted or assumed away key features that would have hurt their effort. So, this study didn’t tell residents whether they’d have lakefront or swamp front property. The study neither conducted any core drilling of a known landfill nor provided a realistic assessment of the costs of wetland reclamation. Now, I don’t fault the consultants for not doing these things. Consultants are paid to answer questions. The problem was that the reservoir proponents wanted the study for reasons similar to why a drunk wants a lamppost—for support, not illumination. These questions could’ve been addressed for less money than was spent on marketing the reservoir.
The myriad problems with the proposal came to light in a democratic process that spanned several months. Experts on hydrology, geology, archeology, biology, environmental law, economics and others weighed in on the project. In the end, analysis and fact—much of it uncovered in this study—doomed the project. But it was concerned citizens, including many prominent local business leaders, who led the opposition. This is a great lesson in civics, but it isn’t the most important lesson from the project.
Anderson, Indiana has most of the ingredients of economic success. It has many good neighborhoods and a downtown that is pregnant with commercial opportunity. Most importantly, Anderson sits in the spreading footprint of one of the most rapidly growing cities in the world. Like many communities around it, Anderson should be experiencing significant population growth. It has not for the simple reason that its schools have long been among the worst performing in Indiana.
If the wise folks in Anderson had spent half the effort at crafting a top flight school system that they spent on Mounds Lake, their economic woes would be behind them. That is the real lesson of Mounds Lake.
Michael Hicks is the George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Economics and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.
The October issue of The Atlantic contained a report titled: The Nature Cure– Why Doctors are Writing Prescriptions for Time Outdoors by James Hamblin. It alludes to some of the recent data which shows that spending time in nature makes people healthier. Here’s the link to the interesting report:
Here is the link to today’s Herald Bulletin’s report on the Daleville Town Council’s meeting and vote.
Following is a May 28, 2015 letter from Jeffrey Willman, V. P. of Water Operations for Citizens Water to Kent Ward of the Hamilton County Drainage Board. Surveyor Ward had requested a written position statement from Citizens regarding the planned reservoir in Anderson.
The letter was obtained via a recent public records request to Citizens Water. It confirms (in writing) what Citizens Water has been saying for many months about their position on the plan.
To our knowledge, this letter has not been previously provided to the media (nor, curiously, has any public media apparently requested a position statement). Hopefully, this posting will help clarify Citizens Water’s official position of non-interest in participating in the development and utilization of the planned reservoir.
May 28, 2015
Surveyor of Hamilton County
One Hamilton County Square
Noblesville, IN 46060
In response to the Drainage Board’s inquiry regarding Citizens Energy Group’s position on the proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir, please be aware that Citizens has no plans to endorse or participate in the project. Citizens has a comprehensive water resource planning process that considers a wide range of options for providing safe and reliable water service to our customers long-term. Our planning process has determined that about 82 million gallons per day of additional water resources will be required over the next 25 years to meet future needs. The process also determined that the proposed reservoir is not cost-effective when compared to other available resource options. Therefore, Citizens will continue to focus on local and more affordable options to meet customer long-term needs such as the recently completed Harbour Groundwater Treatment Plant and well field near Morse Reservoir; construction of four new groundwater wells in the Geist well field, dredging of the Central Canal for improved flow and system yield, and improved intakes at our White River treatment plants.
If the proposed reservoir were to move forward, Citizens would have to insist on minimum discharge requirements and operating parameters to ensure that our down stream treatment plants and customers are not starved for water. Citizens will continue to monitor the public discussions regarding the proposed reservoir, but we do not plan to be involved in the project in any way. Thank you for your inquiry.
Vice President Water Operatons
Citizens Energy Group