August 16, 2022

SIRWA pauses on Clarke County lake project

Osceola City Council learned via letter from Southern Iowa Rural Water Association of its continued support of a proposed lake in Clarke County, but will reconsider further efforts for the lake.

During Osceola City Administrator Ty Wheeler’s report during the June 21 city council meeting, he shared a June 16 letter from Southern Iowa Rural Water Association (SIRWA) to the Clarke County Reservoir Commission regarding a funding request for the lake project. Wheeler is a member of the commission.

“SIRWA has been a sponsor of the Clarke County Reservoir Commission (CCRC) and the CCRC proposed lake project since 2008. In that time, SIRWA has been diligent in its support of CCRC’s extraordinary efforts to develop a new raw water supply in Clarke County…contributing nearly $1,000,000 to CCRC initiatives over the past 14+ years….Ultimately, SIRWA’s board has determined that while SIRWA intends to remain a sponsor of CCRC for the time being, SIRWA’s fiduciary duty to its own members must carry the day. Such duty mandates that SIRWA cease further contributions to the CCRC lake project.”

The letter states SIRWA agreed on its position this month.

“The SIRWA board of directors discussed the present and potential future status of the CCRC lake project. When the CCRC lake project was originally initiated and for a number of years thereafter, a lake project in Clarke County made sense for all the sponsors involved. However, more recently, the facts and circumstances for the utilities most impacted by the project (SIRWA, Creston City Waterworks (CCWW) and Osceola Water Works have now significantly changed. At this point in time, both SIRWA and CCWW are self-sustaining in a manner that makes construction of the CCRC lake project an unwise use of funds for SIRWA, particularly when SIRWA would gain no significant short or long-term benefit to its own members from the project.”

Councilman Tom Bahls asked if both SIRWA and Creston had been questioned on their claims of self-sufficiency, to which Wheeler replied he had said to them if they were in a self-sufficient space, a discussion needed to be had about them no longer purchasing water from Osceola. Mayor Pro Tem George Fotiadis added it would free up a lot of water for Osceola, as the city is currently drawing above the lake’s DNR licensed capacity.

“I bring this to the public’s attention because there has obviously been a significant investment made in this project over the course of two decades or better,” said Wheeler. “We’re trying to pursue federal dollars with a project that has a plan that’s going to update, justifying the need based on use from one of our largest users that now apparently no longer exists. I think it presents a tremendous level of uncertainty.”

SIRWA also stated economic conditions influenced the action.

“Further, the cost of the CCRC lake project has skyrocketed over the years due to the high cost of land acquisition, changing availability of government funding, defending of legal action(s) and now economic inflation and greatly increased construction costs. Project costs are expected to only go up further over time.”

The letter, signed by SIRWA’s legal counsel Amy Skogerson, stated, “The quality relationship of the impacted water system provides a strong foundation for working together to find other, less expensive, more creative ways to help resolve water supply issues within the region. SIRWA expects that more conversations lie ahead in relation to this common goal and the future of the CCRC lake project.”

Mayor position

Wheeler discussed with council the resignation tendered by mayor Matthew Stoll dated June 15. Wheeler said it was the recommendation of the city attorney to complete that process by accepting the resignation, and explained to the council that city code [5.10 Vacancies] allows for two different methods to fill the mayoral vacancy.

One option is for the council to either fill by appointment which must be done within 60 days of Stoll’s resignation. The other option is to fill by special election, which will automatically happen if the council does not fill by appointment. In response to councilwoman Missy Cline’s question about the cost of holding a special election, Wheeler said it was about $3,000.

Council approved Stoll’s resignation, and Wheeler suggested they ask the county auditor to set the special election date as far in the future as possible, and councilman Douglas Gay concured. The motion for a special election was passed; the date of the election will be set by the auditor’s office.

“I would like to give our constituents enough time to think about it, [and] if they want to run, run,” said Gay.

“I think we’re going to get a variety of people that could be interested,” added councilman Dan Hooper. “Like every other job, no one tests into the mayor position as a mayor; [it’s] going to take some time for any individual who runs to be able to fill [the] job as mayor.”

“If you’re interested in it, get the petition going…talk it over with family and friends, get a petition going and be there,” said Fotiadis. “This councilman does not want to appoint the mayor; that is the people’s job.”

“Even though we could do it, I don’t think we should,” said Gay, making a motion for the county to post for a special election allowing for as much time as can be given.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.