Lake Panorama RIZ Update

By Susan Thompson

In this month’s Q&A, John Rutledge, LPA general manager, provides an update on what’s in store for the Lake Panorama Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) in 2017.

Q. January is traditionally a slow time for the LPA board, but a busy time for the RIZ board. What’s happening with the Lake Panorama Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) board this month?

A. As a local government entity, RIZ is required to approve its 2017-18 fiscal year budget by March 15, 2017. This requires advance work and planning as the budget must be published in the newspaper between 10 and 20 days prior to adoption. The RIZ district uses the Guthrie County Vedette as its official paper, and the budget is scheduled to appear there in the January 19 edition. The adoption of the budget will follow February 1.

Q. Tell us a little about the RIZ budget.

A. RIZ anticipates receiving $1.87 million in revenues in the 2017-18 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. This amount is very similar to what RIZ will receive in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Over $600,000 will be used to retire debt, while the remaining amount will be used to fund the dredging operation, silt basin development and water quality endeavors.

Q. What is the status of the Lake Panorama RIZ renewal, as discussed shortly after the 2015 legislative session?

A. RIZ law is governed under IA Code Chapter 357H, which was significantly amended in the 2015 legislative session. Most notable in the amendment is a prescribed process by which RIZ districts can apply for a 20-year renewal. Lake Panorama RIZ is in the middle of this process and expects to submit the required engineering report to the Guthrie County Board of Supervisors sometime in February of this year. Once submitted, the board will review the report and conduct a public hearing.

Iowa Code requires the board of supervisors to grant renewal if the RIZ district has demonstrated a continued need for the next 20 years. Lake Panorama’s report still is in draft form, but I am confident it will meet the legal threshold without question. Substantial analysis of Panorama’s past, present and future has been completed by Shive-Hattery, the engineering consulting firm that has worked with the Lake Panorama RIZ for many years. The report clearly highlights the need for continued efforts.

Q. What other projects is RIZ undertaking?

A.  The Helen’s Cove/Donahey Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) project was substantially completed in late 2016. The dormant seeding should come up in the spring, at which time we will consider the project wholly-completed. Bidding for the Hughes Cove/Elmquist CREP project is being processed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), with a bid opening date in early February. LPA will be hosting IDALS’ pre-construction meeting January 19, which is an important milestone for the project. The beginning of the bidding process marks the transition from moving mountains of paperwork to moving mountains of earth.

Q. What are some observations you’ve made as you embark on the third of three projects tied to the Cory Farm purchase?

A.  I first spoke with the Cory family in the spring of 2013, with our land deal being made in 2013 on Labor Day weekend. Assuming the Hughes Cove project seeding greens up in the spring of 2018, we’ll be looking at a five-year window from concept to completion.

On one hand, five years seems like a really long time. But I also feel as though we will have covered a lot of ground between 2013 and 2018. In addition to the projects themselves, we have forged important relationships with several key partners. These relationships are already leading to discussions about new, additional water quality projects on which we might partner. I’m optimistic we’ll have more exciting news to share with the LPA membership later in 2017.