City continues to seek public input on the future of Lake Springfield-James River Power Station

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:49 PM CDT|Updated: May. 4, 2023 at 6:55 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - By mid-summer of next year (2024), the city of Springfield is expected to finish its plan for the future of the Lake Springfield-James River Power Station reuse project, which will be an economic development catalyst for the decommissioned plant and the body of water built to serve it.

On Thursday, the city of Springfield and City Utilities hosted its second public meeting and open house, along with tours of the power station, to update the community on the planning process and gather input.

Built in 1956 and opened a year later, the James River Power Station has played an important part in supplying electricity during Springfield’s population growth of more than 100,000 people.

But after 63 years of service, the plant was decommissioned in 2021. When the smokestacks came tumbling down in 2022, it signaled a new chapter for the facility and the adjoining Lake Springfield that was built to serve the power station’s cooling needs.

“What we’re looking to do is everything from growing the tax base to bringing in new businesses plus potential housing, recreational opportunities and making this a destination not just for Springfield but for the region as a whole,” said Danny Perches, the Assistant Director of Economic Vitality for the city.

With $1 million of federal and local funding, the city is working with the Crawford, Murphy, and Tilly engineering and consulting firm to assemble the plan, which involves 1,000 acres around the power station.

Although many ideas are still on the table, the overall consensus seems to be that the lake should have some sort of recreational aspects to it and that the power station, because of its historical significance, should be repurposed but not completely torn down.

As for the lake, it’s shallow in most places, making it currently incapable of being used by motorboats for skiing. And considering a dam was put in place on the James River to create the lake, there’s also the option of removing the dam.

“The water comes from the James River, so do we bring it back to just a river or keep it as a lake as it currently is?” Perches said. “There would have to be a lot of steps taken to get more recreation in the water. The portions of the water that are the river channel are the deepest parts, but the lake part is pretty shallow at four-to-five feet.”

“I think we can do whatever the community envisions,” said Steve Stodden, City Utilities Vice-President, and Chief Natural Gas-Water Operations Officer. “It will be expensive to dredge that lake. But if that’s what people want and it’s financially feasible, it can be done. But you have to decide if you want it to be more of a natural setting or do you want it to be like a resort area. Or do you want it to be somewhere in between? But the lake has endless opportunities. It’s just a matter of how much money and time you want to put into it and what you eventually want it to look like.”

Suggestions for the power station include turning it into apartments, retail or office space, or maybe even a museum or recreation center.

“There could be an aspect of it that’s canoeing-and-kayaking or an aspect of it that’s an entertainment district,” Stodden said. “It doesn’t have to be one thing. And know that CU will continue to operate here. We still have our substation that’s out front that is integral to the operation of our power system for the city. We have two gas turbines here that we continue to operate. We have our propane air plant that was so critical for the natural gas system during winter storm Uri.”

CU’s continued presence, though, will all be outside the building, and repurposing the inside will pose some challenges.

“You have things like lead-based paint and asbestos,” Stodden pointed out. “So there’s going to be some environmental challenges to ensure you take care of those problems properly. Then you’ve got equipment in here that weighs 20-50 tons, so you’re going to have to figure out how to move that. And then you have to bring it up to code. When you’re looking at a building that was designed 70 years ago and built for a different purpose, you’ll have a lot of work to do to make sure it meets current codes to be safe for its new future use.”

So many moving parts and questions must be answered before the plan is completed next summer. But one thing that officials agree on is that the area won’t end up as a concrete jungle.

“We certainly want to enhance what’s already here,” Perches said. “We don’t want to take away from the beauty of the Ozarks, and that’s what we’re asking the public to do is to dream big and tell us what they want to see for the future of Lake Springfield.”

At the meeting on Thursday, visitors were given a presentation with several site concepts and possible uses to choose from, with the 1,000 acres divided into five zones.

Here’s the rundown:

Zone 1 is south of the power station with open fields and woodlands- possible uses included cabins or camping, playgrounds, trails, an athletic field complex, adventure recreation, woodland restoration, river access, or a lake with amenities.

Zone 2 is a capped landfill next to the power station- possible uses mentioned include an astronomy viewing area, fitness course, open-play turf fields, river edge tree houses, and trails.

Zone 3 is the power plant and dam- possible uses for the power station include themed lodging, museum/skills training, day-trip outpost, transit station, indoor athletics/adventure recreation/event space, outdoor education/gardens, or amphitheater/demonstration area. The dam modification options included partial removal, bypassing the channel, or lowering the spillway.

Zone 4 is the lake itself and the park area that already exists to the north- possible changes mentioned were restoring the river channel and creating a wetland, dredging the lake for deeper water, group camping, nature center/marina, expanding disc golf and day-use amenities, expanding pedestrian access and building cabins/lodges along the lake edge.

Zone 5 is the area along the James River north of Lake Springfield that runs near the nature center and the 65/60 interchange- possible changes are creating a bridge crossing north of Lake Springfield, more trail development in conjunction with the Chadwick Flyer trail project, and making a trail connection at East Timbercrest Road.

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