Review of Mounds Lake reservoir study raises new questions

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Opponents of a proposal to build Indiana's first new reservoir in more than four decades by damming the White River in Anderson say they hope a peer review of a feasibility study helps kill the project before more money is spent.

But a Ball State University professor said the review completed last month was designed to be critical to ensure key questions are addressed and doesn't suggest the project should be abandoned.

The proposed 2,100-acre Mounds Lake reservoir would stretch seven miles from Anderson to Yorktown and would flood an area that includes Anderson's Mounds Mall, adjacent business properties, about 400 homes and part of Mounds State Park. It is estimated to cost $450 million.

Several studies have said the reservoir isn't needed to meet metropolitan Indianapolis' water needs. Citizens Energy, the region's largest water utility, hasn't publicly endorsed the project.

Fourteen Ball State University professors examined separate aspects of the proposal during the peer review process and concluded that environmental, cultural and economic elements covered in the feasibility study "represent significant gaps in data analysis regarding the Mounds Reservoir proposal," The Herald Bulletin reported.

The reviewers cited a lack of engagement with communities that might have legal, historical or cultural links to the Mounds sites, noted that there is no estimate on the number of archaeological sites that could be eliminated. They said the costs to acquire land to mitigate the loss of wetlands were "unrealistically" optimistic.

"We believe that neither the rigor of the methods of evaluation nor the detail of the information presented in both the Phase I and Phase II studies are sufficient for the public to evaluate the degree of adverse effects or the financial feasibility of this proposal," an executive summary of the review states.

Reservoir opponent Sheryl Myers of the Heart of the River group said she hopes the findings will help sink the project before work proceeds on a far more costly study that would include design elements, technical reviews and a full environmental impact study.

"It will be a monumental waste of time and energy," she said. "A project of this sort should be a problem in search of a solution. This is a solution in search of a problem."

Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development of Anderson and Madison County, said the concerns raised in the peer review will be addressed in the next phase of study.

Sparks said $750,000 has been spent advancing the project. The Phase III feasibility study could cost $28 million over three years, he said.

He said he would seek foundation and grant money to finance that phase.

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