By Tim Cox
Celina city officials remain undecided whether they want to secure a purchase option on 55 acres of land to create a wetlands mitigation bank, which would help fulfill the city's mitigation requirements to build a mile-long walkway along West Bank Road.
City officials are split on whether to pursue the aggressive mitigation project along the Coldwater Creek near where the creek spills into Grand Lake. City administration officials are hoping other governments and private entities would buy into the plan to meet their own mitigation requirements, but some council members are skeptical of the $15,000 non-refundable price to secure the purchase option.
Although the $15,000 would count toward any purchase of land made within six months, the money would be lost if the land is deemed unacceptable to create new wetlands or if the project was abandoned for some other reason. Landowner Steve Klosterman told council members he is willing to work with them, but also said he needs to know the city is serious about wanting his land.
"The purpose of the $15,000 is to show me the city is serious," Klosterman said. "If I'm going to hold up work, I need to have a commitment from the city of Celina."
If the city doesn't buy the land, Klosterman plans to create a residential development at the site. Klosterman said he would give the city 60 days or so to determine if the ground could be used to create new wetlands. A couple of state officials already have viewed the site but have offered no firm decision on whether the land is suitable. City administration officials plan to negotiate the details with Klosterman and seek a firm to craft a mitigation plan for the site.
Another potential obstacle to the mitigation work has been cleared up. Auditor Pat Smith had questioned whether money from the Grand Lake Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district that is being tapped to pay for the walkway could be used to pay for the mitigation work because the area is outside the designated TIF district. A legal opinion says the expenditure is a legitimate use of the TIF money.
Still, some city officials are wondering how long the walkway project will languish on the drawing board. The estimated $2 million walkway has been in the planning phase for years but construction cannot begin until the mitigation issue is addressed.
"The longer we wait, the more expensive the project becomes," Councilwoman Angie King said. "Are we going to be sitting here next year talking about the boardwalk?"
The mitigation project has its supporters and detractors. A number of members of two area lake improvement organizations attended Monday's meeting in support of the mitigation proposal but none spoke. The groups favor the plan because it would help improve the overall quality of the lake because Coldwater Creek is the second-largest tributary feeding into the lake.
Some neighbors along the creek, though, worry how the mitigation effort might affect their land. Jake Snyder has expressed concerns about potential flooding on his land if the mitigation area is created downstream and about his boat access to the creek.
If a low-level dam was built to divert the creek into the mitigation area, boats could not pass from the creek into the lake.
Those sort of issues need to be worked out before council commits financially to the project, Councilman Rick Bachelor said.
"We're putting ourselves out there with questions still to be answered," he said.