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Lakefront Chesterfield?

Chesterfield resident Tim Williams stands in his driveway overlooking part of his 25 acres and barn that he says would be flooded with 6 to 7 feet of water by the proposed reservoir.

Chesterfield resident Tim Williams stands in his driveway overlooking part of his 25 acres and barn that he says would be flooded with 6 to 7 feet of water by the proposed reservoir.

CHESTERFIELD – On a recent sunny day, Tim Williams sat in his barn and looked out across his rural Chesterfield property toward the north bank of the White River. His house sits high on a bluff above the river and the barn.

The proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir would gorge the stretch of the river near Williams’ property, potentially flooding his barn and some of his 25 acres.

“I always figured I would live my whole life here,” he said. “That’s what I always wanted when I was younger.”

While Chesterfield residents like Williams are split in their opinions of the reservoir project, town officials generally are supportive of the proposed 2,100-acre lake that would extend seven miles east and north from Anderson’s Mounds Mall to Yorktown. Chesterfield’s location in between makes it a prime area for development.

Unlike in Anderson, where the construction of the dam and lake would necessitate the eminent domain purchase and submersion of about 400 houses and businesses, only a few residential properties along the White River in Chesterfield stand in the way.

Along North Street on the south edge of the White River, the rows of single-family homes sit high enough above the banks of the river that they could become lakefront properties.

A few yard signs in Chesterfield cry out “Don’t Dam It,” but others support the controversial project.
Jada Woods, who has lived on North Street for three years, wants the reservoir project to move forward.
“I might be on the waterfront, and that will be good for me,” she said. “I hope it will help Anderson and bring restaurants and new jobs.”

Gil Bush’s family has lived on North Street since 1954. He saw the valley flood in 1964.
“I’m opposed to the reservoir because I would have to move,” he explained. “They’re going to have to buy me out. I’ve lived here all of my life.

“I don’t think anything will change my mind. Neighbors think they will have lakefront property. But will they like all the wildlife moving onto their property?”

Several groups, headed by the Heart of the River and the Hoosier Environmental Council, oppose the reservoir project, which has an estimated cost of $450 million. The Madison County Corporation for Economic Development (CED) maintains the funding would come from private investments and grants, not local tax dollars.

Opponents are passionately committed to a free-flowing White River and vow to fight the reservoir because, they say, it threatens the ecosystem, native species and Mounds State Park. They have proposed a trail system along the river from Anderson to Muncie as an alternative to the reservoir project.

Proponents of the project contend the reservoir is needed to meet future water needs in central Indiana. They say it would raise property values, boost tourism and spur business investment in the area.
Moving forward

The next step in the project would be formation of the Mounds Lake Commission. Selected elected officials from Madison and Delaware counties and the municipalities of Anderson, Chesterfield, Daleville and Yorktown would be appointed to the committee. None of the local government entities have yet voted to join the commission, which would oversee the Phase 3 feasibility study and would hold the power to negotiate contracts and obtain property.

If the commission is formed, next steps would include further study of various aspects of the project, leading eventually to the permitting process. At the earliest, construction of the reservoir dam would begin in 2020.

Sheryl Myers, of Heart of the River, said her group’s objections to the reservoir project are not limited to the impact on the Chesterfield area. She cautioned residents who look forward to their homes suddenly becoming lakefront properties.

“They’re looking at financial gain, which is to be debated,” she said.

“A reservoir would destroy much of the Bronnenberg family legacy in the area,” she continued, alluding to a prominent pioneer family whose home is preserved at Mounds State Park.

“People are not looking at the spiritual nature of the river, something that has been there for thousands of years.”

Don Henderson, former president of the Pendleton Town Council and now a consultant for the CED, is certain that the Mounds Lake proposal would be an economic boon for Chesterfield.

“If the bridge on Indiana 32 is not replaced, all of a sudden Chesterfield has its own identity,” Henderson said. “It will have the (Anderson Municipal) airport and a state park on their side of the lake.
Henderson noted that the Mounds Lake project positions local governing bodies to control development.

“If you look at the Morse and Geist reservoirs (near Indianapolis), the problem they had was the reservoirs were constructed, and then the governance came in,” Henderson said. “Annexation had to take place after the property was developed.

“With Mounds Lake, the governance is already in place,” he continued. “The developers are going to have to deal with the communities and what they want, and not what the developers are proposing.”

Rob Sparks, executive director of the CED, said economic value for Chesterfield and other communities would spring from infrastructure improvements that would accompany the project, including hiking trails, boat ramps and swimming areas.

“There will be neighborhood after neighborhood in Chesterfield that dead end into the reservoir,” Sparks said. “It is a unique position for a community to be in. Most of the leaders understand there is an economic value for the community.”

But some Chesterfield residents see it differently.

Shari and David Folsom have lived to the east of a valley on North Street since 2007. If you climb a bluff to the north of their property, you can throw a rock into the White River.

A sign opposing the reservoir stands in the Folsoms’ yard.

“Our first and foremost concern is the environmental impact on the area,” Shari Folsom said. “The little valley would be under water. We really don’t want to move. We love it here.”

Her husband doubts the efficacy of the project.

“I’ve poked numerous holes on the bluff and, if you go down three feet, there is sand and gravel. This was at one time a gravel pit, they filled this in to build houses. It won’t hold water.”

Questions to answer
Jerry Fields, a member of the Town Council, understands people’s reservations about the reservoir. But he’d like to see the project move forward so that questions can be addressed.

“Those concerns will be answered during the permitting phase,” he said. “All of the objections raised by the Heart of the River will be answered, or they won’t get the permit.”

Fields noted that expert witnesses have been summoned by both supporters and detractors of the reservoir project, and the conflicting information they’ve provided has muddied the waters of public discussion.
To him, it’s simple. “The Army Corp of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency will determine if the project is feasible,” he said.

Fields stressed that Chesterfield officials want to preserve the town’s quaint feel, regardless of whether the reservoir is constructed.

Bud Asbury, a former member of Town Council, is unsure how high the lake would rise toward his property line along North Street. But he’s a fisherman and would like to live beside a lake.

“I guess it would be good for the town,” he said. “You have to factor in the costs. There are not many jobs in Chesterfield, and the jobs that are here don’t pay very much.”

Town officials worry about the fate of the four bridges that span the White River near Chesterfield. The most crucial structure is the bridge along Ind. 32 that connects the town to Anderson.

“We’re not going to let them take away 32,” Fields said. “We will fight for the bridge on 32.”

Fields said the town would work with the Mounds Lake Commission to determine the fate of Chesterfield area bridges that carry Emerald Glen, Water Street and County Road 500 West.

“We need to leave one of those in place for public safety,” he said. “The police and fire chief have to be involved in the discussions.”

Sparks said the CED has included enough money in the reservoir project budget to replace all the bridges.
“If the bridges are not replaced, the money will be spent to make improvements to the roads in the area,” he explained. “There has to be traffic studies done during the design phase, and the stakeholders will have a say in the final determination.”

Williams, whose Chesterfield property sits above the north bank of the White River, has a personal interest in the Water Street bridge.

“Removing the bridge would be an inconvenience for everyone living north of the river,” he said. “We drive into Chesterfield for groceries. If the bridge was not there, we would have to drive around the reservoir and probably shop at other stores.”

While Chesterfield officials are generally favorable about the reservoir project, they’re inclined to dip their toes in the water rather than diving in headfirst. The Town Council has adopted a wait-and-see approach toward the possibility of joining the Mounds Lake Commission.

“We’re going to let Anderson lead the way,” Fields said.

Chesterfield’s future
Camp Chesterfield has been located along the north bank of the White River since 1886 and is included on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

The Indiana Association of Spiritualists and the Friends of Camp Chesterfield have been gathering facts about the reservoir proposal and its potential impact on the property.

Vicki Corkell, president of the association, pointed to a natural inlet from the White River into the campground.

“The camp would be impacted,” she said. “It could flood the low-lying areas of the campground. We don’t know how it will be mitigated.”

Potential groundwater seepage also worries Corkell. Springs lie beneath the campground property.
“There are a lot of questions,” she said. “Right now, it’s speculation.

“We’re more concerned about what the experts have to say,” Corkell said. “The Army Corps of Engineers have to weigh in about it.”

P.J. Hall, a member of the Friends of Camp Chesterfield, pointed out that proponents of the reservoir have not submitted reports for the permitting process.

“No alternatives have been discussed,” he said. “There has to be an extensive review process. Those discussions haven’t happened yet. Our interest is in preserving the camp.”

The potential of the Mounds Lake project has folks in Chesterfield talking. Some are blatantly opposed to the idea. Some are excited about the possibility. Most are waiting for convincing answers to their questions.

But none would deny that, should the Mounds Lake Reservoir become a reality, the face of this quaint town will change forever.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.

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The Town of Daleville is located in Delaware County where I-69, Ind. 67 and Ind. 32 converge.

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