A major setback for the Mounds Reservoir project might help build momentum for an alternative.
After two preliminary studies, the folks behind the project needed all of the municipalities affected by the proposal to unanimously agree to create a commission in order to move forward. The commission's responsibilities would include raising money to fund more feasibility studies and ultimately utilize eminent domain to acquire the necessary properties to execute the project.
But things don't always work out the way they are planned.
The cities of Anderson and Chesterfield agreed to create the commission; however, Daleville and Yorktown voted no, splitting the vote along county lines.
So without that unanimous approval, what happens now?
The Mounds Greenway project
Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, says he doesn't believe the project is dead — its supporters are committed to this reservoir idea. But Maloney does believe that more people are considering the alternative HEC is proposing: The Mounds Greenway initiative.
The Mounds Greenway plan is what HEC calls a sustainable alternative to the reservoir plan. Instead of damming the White River in Anderson to create a reservoir, the greenway plan leaves the river intact and develops a linear park along the river's banks instead.
"We need to remain vigilant and this just expands the opportunity to promote the greenway," says Maloney. "We are hearing that Delaware County is interested in the greenway idea. We are building that momentum and identifying the means for getting it done."
The greenway idea would create hiking and biking trails along the White River from Anderson to Muncie with built-in economic development opportunities along the way, including canoeing, kayaking, wildlife observation and nature photography and businesses associated with those activities strategically placed along the route. The communities along the river could create trails within their communities leading to the greenway. And all of that would be accomplished without affecting the river or the associated wetlands and floodplain forests already in existence.
"It's more than just a trail — it's a conservation project," says Maloney. "We need to demonstrate the value and benefit [of the greenway] to the communities that it affects and see if they are willing to embrace it."
Maloney is right about one thing — supporters of the reservoir idea are not ready to let it go despite the failure to create a commission.
Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development in Anderson, says the notion that no commission has been formed at this time does not in any way " kill" the project.
"The project is still gathering the data to determine and address water need, water quality and community impact," says Sparks. "Those were the basic questions raised over the last couple of months and they will be better clarified and addressed for the communities."
Sparks says the reservoir project is a water resource. Supporters say the reservoir will serve a vital function in providing water reserves for utilities to access when water is in short supply. However, the term "resource" could also be interpreted as one providing high-end residential property and commercial development through recreational opportunities similar to Morse and Geist reservoirs in Hamilton and Marion counties.
Questions have been raised about the need for such a water reserve that would flood out existing homes and businesses and cause irreparable damage to the riverside flora and fauna. Although the project is far from a done deal, no water utility has shown any interest in the water the reservoir would supply. Citizens Energy Group announced it would prepare for any water shortage by creating a reservoir in an existing rock quarry in Fishers. The Citizens reservoir would only be a water reserve with no public access and no recreational opportunity.
Sparks says there is still plenty of support for the project, but the fact that some communities weren't convinced of the benefits means there are questions to be answered and awareness to be raised.
"At a minimum, we need more discovery. As more data is available, it will be communicated to communities," says Sparks.
Reservoir vs. greenway
The reservoir and the greenway present vastly different concepts but promise Madison and Delaware counties very similar results. And the split between the two counties in terms of support for the reservoir could prompt a revamp of the reservoir project to scale it down to Madison County only. Sparks says that is a possibility along with a host of other ideas that are currently being explored.
In the meantime, HEC, The Heart of the River and other organizations looking to preserve the river as is will continue to raise awareness and bring their concept closer to reality.
"Conceivably, we are not that far from getting started on it and putting together the resources to make it happen," says Maloney. "The more the reservoir stumbles and gets voted down, that all makes the greenway look a lot better."
One thing is certain — the continued debate of a reservoir versus a greenway has brought more attention to a natural resource in Central Indiana that had been neglected and ignored for a long time.