EYE ON THE PIE: Municipal fantasies you may have missed

2014-05-24T10:28:00Z EYE ON THE PIE: Municipal fantasies you may have missedMorton J. Marcus Times Business Columnist nwitimes.com
May 24, 2014 10:28 am  • 

Hoosier mayors and their city councils are beleaguered by fiscal crises set upon them by Indiana’s Legislature. Some mayors take up the challenge, working hard to trim expenditures, doing as little harm as possible to the public’s welfare. Other mayors invest in fantasies.

Two such fantasies, notable for their inventiveness, are being pressed upon the public in Anderson and Logansport.

First is the proposal to flood parts of Anderson and Mounds State Park by damming the White River. This proposal, as I understand it, has received $600,000 from the state of Indiana for a study of its benefits and costs.

The proposal was initiated by the economic development folks in Anderson. They envision a recreational and housing bonanza for the reservoir and its surrounding area that would rival the Geist development in Marion and Hamilton counties.

Presumably, wealthy people would move into luxurious homes on the banks of the reservoir, bring new high-tech businesses to Anderson and share the new lake with recreation-starved visitors from afar. In time, the reservoir would also provide water for the expanding central Indiana metropolitan area. If properly conducted, the study should tell us how much of all this can come to fruition and at what cost to whom.

A group of notables, the “Upper White River Watershed Alliance,” has endorsed the study while carefully taking no explicit position on the virtue of the project. Another group, composed of homeowners, farmers, park users and interested citizens has formed “Heart of the River” to oppose the reservoir.

Would the federal government fund this project? Is it somehow in the national interest to develop high-end homes and added recreational facilities between Anderson and Muncie? What are the environmental and historical costs of using this site for a reservoir?

Who stands to benefit from this project? Is this something Citizens Water (an Indianapolis public charitable trust) sees as a public good or is it part of the imperial designs of that agency?

Second, the Logansport project is equally puzzling. Apparently, there are moneyed interests in France, with unknown expertise, desiring to build an $803 million power plant in Logansport. In return for 4 percent of the gross sales, these benefactors ask only for a 25-year contract to sell electricity to Logansport consumers and businesses. This would be a natural gas-powered facility, unlike the trash-powered generating plant previously proposed by another mystery source.

This project seems to have the energetic support of the mayor and his allies on the city council. How the project would be financed is unclear. Would bonds be sold through the Indiana Bond Bank for this private venture? If Logansport needs a new source of electricity, what is wrong with existing private companies or the Indiana Municipal Power Agency? What is the role in this project of Brian Bosma, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives?

Both projects will have to face federal and state regulatory agencies. In the meantime, the reservoir and the power plant can help the mayors demonstrate their bold concern for the future, regardless of how flimsy the fantasies.

Opinions are solely the writer's. Morton Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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