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Voters to decide Lake Leota's fate

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GINA R. HEINE
October 20, 2008
— Evansville voters will decide Nov. 4 whether Lake Leota should remain a swampy field or be restored to the park's centerpiece.

The ballot will include this non-binding referendum:


"Shall the Evansville Common Council approve spending an amount not to exceed $2 million in order to restore Lake Leota?"


Dredging proposed by engineers would create a 15-foot-deep "fishing area" and an 8-foot-deep "recreational area." Recreational options would be discussed later, City Council President Mason Braunschweig said, but paddleboats, kayaks, canoes, Jon boats and other small craft would be allowed.


If the advisory referendum result is near a 50/50 split, then the council would look at several factors in a "healthy discussion," he said.


But he said he's "absolutely dedicated to the will of the people."


"If 70 percent want the lake or don't want the lake, then that's the way I'm going to vote when it comes back to the council," he said.


Despite tough times, voters have to consider ramifications of having the project completed versus having "this big question mark in the very middle of our city," he said.


The project would be financed through general obligation bonds.


The city estimates the tax impact on a $100,000 residence from a 20-year bond would be $50 the first year and declining through the life of the bond.


The $2 million includes excavating about 200,800 cubic yards of lakebed material and distributing it on 100 acres of nearby farmland owned by Daria and Declan Every. The city would pay the Everys $110,000 to place the dredged material on their land, according to the contract


Among the preventive measures to keep the lake from refilling with sediment would be the creation of a 10-foot-deep fore bay southwest of the railroad tracks.


"As it (sediment) comes in, it's going to dump here rather than spread throughout the entire lake," City Administrator Dan Wietecha said.


Some voters say the city is leaving out additional costs. They refer to two projects that Braunschweig, also chair of the public works committee, and Wietecha said are separate from dredging:


-- An un-designed culvert under the railroad tracks between the upper and lower portions of the lake. The culvert would partially reroute the stream back into the upper lake to reduce the downstream movement of sediment, according to engineering reports.


The idea is just conceptual, Wietecha said, with no timetable or approval. And it may not even be needed, Braunschweig said.


A conservative price tag could be a half-million dollars, Wietecha said, though engineers have said it could be up to $400,000.


-- Repair of the Allen Creek walls.


"The creek wall and the lake are two different animals," Braunschweig said.


The creek always will be there regardless of the lake, and the deteriorating walls are a huge public safety issue, he said.


The city's proposed capital budget allocates $100,000 next year and $50,000 for the following four years to repair the walls, Wietecha said, though he stressed it's still only proposed.


The lake was drained in 2005 without a dredging plan. It has sat empty since, though grass, weeds and bushes are growing in the lakebed.


If the referendum fails, the lake's future is unclear. No costs or official proposals have been presented, Braunschweig said.


The dam could be closed, leaving the lake to return to its shallow state of three years ago, though that would include undetermined costs to remove the lakebed growth.


"It's not free, but it's probably in the terms of tens of thousands of dollars, maybe a hundred thousand dollars," Wietecha said.


The state Department of Natural Resources also could force the city to do something if the lake is not dredged, Braunschweig said.


If approved, the dredging would be done by spring. Bids for the work are to be opened Nov. 10, and the council would vote at its Nov. 11 to approve a bid, if that's what the voters and council decide.


TO LEARN MORE

Engineers will give an overview of the Lake Leota dredging project at the public works committee meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 28, at City Hall, 31 S. Madison St., Evansville.



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