Why I support building Hunter Lake

Illinois Times has published guest opinion columns opposing construction of a second lake for Springfield. Over the years that the project has been under consideration, IT has published several articles and letters from Reg Davis in support. Here is his commentary on the latest lake proposal.

About 15 years ago I attended a Springfield Chamber of Commerce meeting with a friend and was asked: What would you do to help promote the Hunter Lake project? My answer was simple: Educate people on the issue, because if folks know how much it will benefit Springfield in the future, there is no one that has Springfield's best interest at heart that could possibly be against it.

This issue has now come farther than it ever has before. A lot of the credit should go to Springfield's last two mayors and their 12 years of combined support. Besides solving our supplemental water supply problem and giving Springfield enough water to grow and prosper, this project has no equals when it comes to the economic return to Springfield from all the recreational and tourism opportunities it will create, the quality-of-life issues it will bring to our community and the environmental improvement it will make to our area.

The north end of the project (the dam) would be located just about a half mile south and east of the Henson Robinson Zoo on East Lake Drive and wwould border our city limits. The whole 7,983 acres that encompasses the project will in essence be a state park when completed. Springfield already has a 2015 signed agreement with the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources to manage and help develop it. "This is a great opportunity for the IDNR to get in on the ground floor of a project and develop it the right way," said IDNR Director Wayne Rosenthal, as quoted in the agreement. Another part states the project would be "ensuring the best use for the area for maximum recreational opportunities."

One University of Illinois study projects that after Hunter Lake is built there will still be over five times the unmet aquatic recreational (lake) demand in our area. An excerpt from an article in the State Journal-Register about seven years ago also reported that "the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau released the results of a visitor survey. The survey of more than 500 recent and potential visitors to the capital city showed that many tourists think the area lacks recreational and outdoor activities."

Another U of I study projects that the economic impact to Springfield from just the aquatic aspects of the lake alone will be $7.2 million per year and could be as high as $11.6 million per year. With inflation the numbers would be higher now. Surprisingly, this doesn't include the economic impact from the outdoor activities that would be created from the 5,000 acres of ground that would surround the lake.

CWLP's latest estimate of the cost to build the project is $143,242,000. So how long would it take for this project to pay for itself in economic return to Springfield? Going by the numbers above, one would think it could easily pay for itself within 15 years and most likely less.

Building this project would turn over 3,400 acres of cultivated land, hay lands and pastures into tallgrass prairies, forested lands and wetlands. By comparison, the area of the lake is 2,649 acres. "Total annual load reductions from all CWLP best management practices are estimated at 573,432 pounds for total nitrogen, 60,538 pounds for total phosphorus, and 58,621 tons of sediment." This would be a huge environmental improvement by anyone's standards."

Springfield presently has the lowest water rates in the state, and Chatham's rates are about 4.4 times higher – $14.80 compared to $64.84 for the most common residential customer. Assuming this project would be paid for by a water rate increase, what would it cost the average CWLP residential customer? To calculate it exactly depends on the interest rate and term of the bonds at the time of issuance, but going by the information I have gathered I believe at this time a best estimate is somewhere around a 50% to 60% rate increase, or a $7.40 to $8.88 per month increase. It is hardly an amount that would adversely affect almost anyone. These numbers absolutely show what a superb job the past and present managers and engineers at CWLP have done managing its Water Division.

Congress recently passed a huge infrastructure bill, and every state budget has funds for community infrastructure needs, tourism and economic development. I would be shocked if this project would not qualify to receive some of these funds. Grants could then lower the amount of the water rate increase needed.

Considering what Springfield stands to gain by building the project, and for the relatively miniscule water rate increase it would cost us to pay for it, I will never understand how anyone that has Springfield's best interest at heart could possibly oppose it.

Reg Davis is a lifelong resident of Springfield. Six generations of his family have and do live here. He is a retired captain from the Springfield Fire Department. Before that he was an engineering technician with the Sangamon County Highway Department and worked on numerous road and bridge construction projects all over Springfield and Sangamon County.

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