Construction on Little Otter Creek near Hamilton has finally become a reality
Presiding Commissioner, Bud Motsinger, hosted a meeting at the Church of the Nazarene Friday morning prior to the groundbreaking ceremony which was held at 1:00 at the dam site of the Little Otter Creek. The meeting was attended by approximately 30 people who have been involved in the lake project. Those people included the Caldwell County Commissioners; several specialists from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); several members of the Green Hills Regional Planning Commission; members of the Department of Conservation; engineers from All State Consultants; a representative from Sam Graves’ office; Randy Railsback who is our State Rep. from Dist. 8; Christine Owen, Caldwell County Clerk; Mark Kipping (citizen); project attorneys; Jeff Campbell of Caldwell County Road & Bridge; Sheriff Mitch Allen; Keith Wyckoff (citizen); and a representative from Roy Blunt’s office attended via speaker phone.
Project updates were given included tree clearing around the construction site. It is reported that all the areas that are critical to construction of the dam are cleared of trees and the site is ready for excavation. Work has been postponed at this time due to rain this past week, but a lot of progress has been made. Four large excavators are at the site, including one with a pincher. Regulations state that the machinery must remain 50 feet away from the sides of the creek bed. If any land erosion or disturbance has left areas bare, those spots have to be covered by mulch. That is why some trees are pulled out and others are pinched off or cut with a chain saw. Tree cutting is almost completed between Jefferson and Sandstone. One machine has been moved north of Ridgeway and they are starting to cut the trees along the creek at that location. All trees had to be removed before the 31st of March, because after that day the Indiana bats will be returning to the area and they don’t want them going up between the tree bark.
Cary Sayre, of All State Consultants, reported that bidding on the project is scheduled for the first of August. It will take two months to advertise and get bids out and more time to review the bids and make a selection (about three months) before construction can begin sometime late this fall.
Randy Railsback was assured by the state that the money for the lake will be available when needed and the paperwork is nearly ready to send in for the block grant. It is also possible that more COVID-19 money will be granted to the county, but at this time it is unsure whether it could be used for infrastructure projects.
Charlie Zitnik discussed refinancing since it has been 13 years since the loan originated. They have had to jump through an extra number of hoops, primarily showing all the sources of income. Once the refinancing is done more funds will be generated within the budget. Substantial mitigation needed to be done on this project and they have already spent over $1,900,000 as of Monday.
A ½-cent sales tax was passed in 2004 by the citizens of Caldwell County in support of the lake. A large portion of that was used to purchase the 800 acres of land required for the lake. That money had to be bonded through D.A. Davidson or through an investment company for a 30-year bond. Originally 2.5 million was bonded and there are still proceeds in the account that have not been spent. They had reasonable expectation in 2007 that this project would be done in 2010. Here we are 11 years later, and it is time to refinance the loan down to a lower interest rate and increase the par amount which is 4.6 million. Those proceeds will then be available to the commission for its matching share from the county.
The county needs to renew their construction permit for three years. A quality insurance plan needs to be drafted between NRCS and the commissioners. This summer a house at the lake will be converted into a lab to be used for soil testing and any other testing that is required.
People have been asking what recreation will be available at the lake. The lake will be restricted to fishing boats with trolling motors and a walking trail. Other recreational activities have not been discussed at this time.
Representative Randy Railsback said that back in 1986 he was hired to oversee a federally funded program to help farm families who suffered from the effects of the economy during the farm crisis. About the same time, the county had a drought. In 1987 Railsback said he helped Hamilton run a water line 6-8 mi. to a creek to help pump water to the reservoir in Hamilton, so the county has been dealing with this problem for a long time. It is estimated that $13 million in grant money has been spent in our area responding to drought after drought. The LOC lake should stop that. Railsback said that the LOC lake and the Sullivan County lake will probably be the last two lakes that will ever be built. “It is too hard and there are too many hoops to jump through,” said Railsback. Right now the bats are in control.
Around 100 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the Little Otter Creek dam site. Those on stage included Governor Mike Parson and First Lady Teresa Parson; Director of the Dept. of Conservation – Sara Pauley; Director of the Dept. of Natural Resources – Carol Comer; Deputy Director Dru Buntin; Director of the Dept. of Ag, Chris Chinn; Senator Denny Hoskins, 21st District; Senator Dan Hegeman, 12th District; State Representative Rusty Black, 7th District; Representative Josh Hurlbert, 12th District; Representative J. Eggleston, 2nd Disrict; representatives for Senator Roy Blunt, Matt Haas and Brant Shields; Elizabeth Johnson with Senator Josh Hawley’s office; and Matt Berry representing Sam Graves’ office.
Representative Railsback spoke to the crowd. He said that a lake is not an easy project to undertake, so this is a great day to celebrate such a significant accomplishment.
Our Missouri weather goes from one extreme to the other, and it is pretty scary when you live in a community with a reservoir that keeps going down and down. In 2012 we had a big drought and it took about three years to get over it. Then in 2018 we were suffering with one of the worst droughts in Missouri state history. “This lake project will level that playing field for us,” said Railsback. The lake is here for three reasons 1) water supply for Caldwell County, 2) to provide flood control downstream, and 3) for the people to enjoy some recreation such as fishing and walking trails. This is a win, win situation.
The project started many years ago when the citizens of Caldwell County passed their ½-cent sales tax to raise money to buy all the land needed for the lake. The land was bought without using eminent domain. Everyone voluntarily worked with the county to sell their land. Then they secured federal funding from NRCS to help with that portion. Only 58% of the cost of the dam construction can be federal; the rest of it has to comprise of state or local funding. Local funding came from the ½-cent sales tax and the rest will come from the state. It will take about two years to build the dam.
Randy Railsback introduced Governor Mike Parson. Governor Parson is a veteran serving six years in the US Army, he served more than 22 years in law enforcement as the sheriff of Polk County. He also served in the Missouri of House of Representatives from 2005 to 2011, the Missouri Senate from 2011 to 2017, and as Lieutenant Governor from 2017 to 2018. Governor Parson and First Lady Teresa live in Bolivar. Together they have two grown children and six grandchildren. He is a small business owner and a third-generation farmer who currently owns and operates a cow and calf operation near their hometown of Bolivar. Governor Parson has a passion for sports, agriculture, Christ and people. “He’s just like us,” said Railsback.
When he first became governor, Parson said there were many portions of this state in the worst drought we have had in our state’s history. There were small towns 21 days away from running out of water. It is hard to imagine that in today’s time, but we saw how close it was. We can’t let those things happen to our communities, said Parson. He thanked the legislators for their hard work. The battle over funding in state government is sometimes a tough deal and you go up against some pretty stiff competition. You should be very proud of your legislators who made the construction of this reservoir possible. We all know as farmers especially how important water is to an area and what that means to all of us to survive. He wants the future generation to have the opportunity to stay on the farm and you have to have the infrastructure in place to do that. That means highways, bridges, Internet, and that means water for people to stay here and be a part of the community and hopefully that prospers all of us. “That’s why today is so important for me and the First Lady to be here, because we started out like most of you here today,” said the governor. All of these things are vitally important to you in this county. He ended his speech saying that it is an honor and privilege to be our 57th governor of the great state of Missouri.