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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008 11:59 pm

Final exam

Will Hunter Lake win approval from residents, authorities?

In February 2001, Donald Hanrahan and 18 other Springfield-area residents protested Hunter Lake at a hearing held by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Nearly eight years later, they’re preparing to speak out again.

Hanrahan, a local attorney and member of Citizens for Sensible Water Use, has spent the past month organizing arguments against the proposed lake and encouraging fellow opponents to speak at a Dec. 3 public hearing, this time sponsored by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. After the hearing — the last chance for public input, Hanrahan says — the two organizations will finally decide whether to issue final permits for Hunter Lake.

“There’s been a lot of ‘water over the dam’,” Hanrahan says of Hunter Lake’s odds of winning approval from authorities. “Things have changed. A lot of attitudes have changed.”

The proposed 7,795-acre lake has been in the works since 1965, when City Water, Light & Power recommended a second water source to buoy the city during severe drought. Lake Springfield currently yields 29.6 million gallons of water per day, but according to CWLP’s figures, an additional 9.1 million gallons is needed in case of emergency. The utility estimates that Hunter Lake would more than meet the quota by providing 21.3 million gallons of water per day.

The Army Corps first accepted and published the proposed Hunter Lake environmental impact statement in November 2001, but could not award its Section 404 permit for water impoundment until the IEPA issued its Section 401 water quality certification.

After years of indecision over whether to fund a second reservoir or pursue other alternatives, such as a gravel pit-and-wells system, the City Council last month OK’d the $10,000 public hearing — the final step in the IEPA’s permitting process.

Hanrahan hopes to provide several high-quality presentations on such issues as the project’s impact on the site’s surrounding communities and the environment. He’s recruited speakers to discuss conservation tactics used by other cities. Other presentations will highlight the agricultural value of the site’s land, as well as the historic value of its 1830s structures like the Lincoln-era Pensacola Tavern.

Another major issue concerns the project’s price tag — an estimated $85 million that might not include all required maintenance, Hanrahan says. Some of the other proposed water source alternatives are cheaper and don’t need to be constructed all at once, he adds.

Todd Renfrow, CWLP general manager, says he expects to hear arguments from “the same anti-lake people” at the hearing, but can’t predict how the IEPA will respond. CWLP has never taken a formal position on Hunter Lake, he adds, but looks forward to receiving final word on the project.

“Personally, I thought we had enough hearings,” Renfrow says, “but if this is going to be bring it to a close, I’m happy to do it and move on.”

Renfrow predicts that the full hearing process could take up to six months. The public has 30 days after the hearing date to submit written statements. CWLP must then respond to questions raised by the IEPA and the public.

Maggie Carson, IEPA spokesperson, says that, if approved, Hunter Lake’s water quality certification will be provided to the Army Corps to use in its Section 404 permitting process. CWLP estimates that this could take an additional two to three months.

The IEPA’s public hearing on Hunter Lake begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, in the Brookens Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Springfield campus.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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