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Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 12:23 am

What’s the purpose of Lake II?

Question haunts Hunter Lake application

 Springfield’s quest to build a second water supply appears bogged down as the Army Corps of Engineers, which must issue a permit, is demanding more studies of a project first proposed more than a half-century ago.

The corps recently removed the project from a list of pending applications posted on the agency’s website. That doesn’t mean the proposed secondary water source dubbed Hunter Lake is dead in the water, according Allen Marshall, a corps spokesman. Rather, removal from the online list of pending projects reflects a lack of progress in the permitting process.

“(O)nce progress starts back up, the permit application will be reposted to the website,” Marshall wrote in an email. “Again, this is an active permit and the corps is fully engaged with the city, having telephone conversations as recently as July.”

For months, the city and corps have battled over the need for additional study aimed at analyzing the need for outdoor recreation in the region and how Hunter Lake might address any unmet recreational needs. Shortly after the city council voted 9-1 to pursue the project, the city and the state Department of Natural Resources in 2015 announced that the state would manage land around the lake. “Places to hunt and fish can be hard to come by, and the department is always looking for ways to expand outdoor opportunities, especially close to metropolitan areas,” Wayne Rosenthal, then director of the Department of Natural Resources, said in a prepared statement four years ago.

Late last year, the city gave the corps a DNR report on recreational opportunities, including bird watching, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, that a new lake could create. The report wasn’t good enough for the corps, which has asked the city to hire a consultant to assess recreational needs in the region and how Hunter Lake might satisfy any unmet needs.

Conversations have gotten testy. In a February letter to James Kelley, project manager for the corps, Mayor Jim Langfelder wrote that recreation was always part of the plan and that the corps in 2018 came up with a new interpretation of the proposal that is the subject of an environmental study, with the corps saying that it didn’t view recreation as part of the project’s purpose.

“We have spent an entire year attempting to move past this misunderstanding to bring this supplemental environmental impact study to completion, and you have spent the entire year trying to convince us to change our minds,” Langfelder wrote. “As we have stated in our correspondence to you…we have not changed the purpose of the project and your efforts to attempt to convince us to change the purpose are causing additional unwarranted and wasteful delays.”

Col. Steven Sattinger, corps engineer, disputed the mayor’s assertion in a reply letter: The city, he maintained, had changed the project’s purpose to include recreation, and that will require more study and work. Langfelder’s statement that the corps had tried changing the project’s purpose, which created delays, “couldn’t be further from the truth,” he wrote.

“If the city wishes to change from a single-purpose project to a multipurpose project midstream, which apparently you do, you should realize that this will create additional costs, delays and the risk that the additional purpose(s) and need(s) may be rejected if not supported by the data,” Sattinger wrote. “The corps needs to be an active participant in the development of the recreation supply, demand and needs studies which should be conducted by an independent third party contractor.”

Last summer, the corps questioned a city proposal to allow the University of Illinois to do the work. Nonetheless, Jim Zerkle, corporation counsel, said the city has sent a U of I plan to the corps and is awaiting an answer.

In July, Kelley told a consultant who is preparing an environmental analysis of the proposed lake that the corps had spoken with top city officials and stressed the importance of issuing a request for proposals and selecting a contractor to prepare a study. According to the July 23 email, the city balked.

“The city does not want another RFP to be sent out and feels that this is a delay tactic by the corps,” Kelley wrote. “They want us to choose (the University of Illinois) and move on with working on the recreation study without the need for an RFP.”

Don Hanrahan, a Springfield attorney who opposes Hunter Lake, said he believes that city officials are trying to build a case for recreational needs because there isn’t sufficient evidence that the city needs a second lake as a backup water supply. By finding an additional purpose, he said, the city may be trying to bolster its chances for a permit.

“They’re not convinced that the need for the project as a supplemental water supply is there,” Hanrahan said. “I think they’re afraid that they can’t make their case.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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